Today, every form of trading has become complex. Even in the (relatively) simple world of stock trading, it’s possible to become lost in a bewildering array of charts, diagrams and technical indicators. Nowhere is this more true than Forex trading.
Fortunately, many of the more or less standard indicators and charts used in stock, mutual fund or bond trading are used in Forex with minor adaptations. Buying and selling still involves monitoring prices and observing trends. That means that many of the statistical analyses used to do that are the same, regardless of the trading instrument being measured.
As with stock or bond trading, the simple line graph is still an enormously popular tool – popular because it is so helpful. In a simple form, current prices and the historical trend can be seen at a glance. The wrinkle in Forex trading is this: what do you mean by ‘the’ price?
Forex prices are always quoted for a pair of currencies. EUR/USD quoted at 1.2537/40 means that for $1.2540 you can buy one euro. To sell euros you own in exchange for dollars, you would receive 1.2537 dollars per euro.
Charts of these prices as they change over time are generated by calculations based on tools from technical analysis. Technical analysis involves the use of highly sophisticated statistical techniques to measure, calculate and predict likely price movements and directions.
A simple technical tool might be an average calculated over time. Note the price right now. Note it again an hour later. Repeat for 24 hours and average those numbers. All this, and much more, is typically done by software available from a wide variety of Forex brokers and online sites. That average represents ‘the price’ over an average trading day.
That one day average could be used as a single point on a line graph. Repeat the process at the same times for 30 days, plotting each point, and eventually you’ll build up a line graph of a 30-day moving average. The average itself will change over time, just as the price does. The change in that average over a 30-day period (or any other interval) gives an investor one insight into price changes.
In Forex trading, there are a dozen common calculations and charts. Some take two moving averages for different intervals – say, minute-by-minute measurements averaged over one hour compared to hour-by-hour averaged over 24 hours – and plots both on one graph. A number called the Moving Average Convergence/Divergence can then be used to compare those moving averages.
Fortunately, the average trader doesn’t have to understand the underlying mathematics in order to take advantage of these tools. Software, some downloadable to your desktop, others that operate directly within your browser, can be used to generate the charts. Some provide technical indicators, buy/sell signals and other useful information.
Still, understanding how to interpret these charts requires time and practice.
Beyond the simple line graph there are a few common charts that every Forex trader will want to learn how to use. Among these are the Bar Chart and the Candlestick Chart.
A bar chart displays prices in the form of a vertical ‘tick’ or bar, with small horizontal lines to the right and left. The ends of the bar indicate the high and low for some period, often the prior 24 hours. The left-facing tick is the opening price for that period, while the closing price is indicated by the right-facing tick.
A series of these bars can be graphed to form a bar chart for any time interval desired – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and so on. Nor does the time period have to be opening and closing prices over a 24 hour period. They could just as easily be prices every hour, graphed over a day, a week and so on.
Candlestick charts are similar to bar charts, but contain additional useful information in graphic form. Originating in Japan, where they were used to track changes in agricultural futures contract prices, they have become part of the trading toolkit everywhere.
In addition to containing the information of a bar chart, they add color coding, by making the bar have a small width, hence its similarity in appearance to a candlestick.
The rectangle making up the ‘candlestick’ is called the body. A white (or, just as often, green) body indicates a closing price higher than the opening price. A black (or red) price indicates a closing price lower than the opening price. The lines protruding top and bottom from the body indicate the high and low prices at the tips.
Some candlesticks will have no line (or shadow as it is sometimes called) protruding from the top of body. That indicates that the currency closed at its high. Similarly, there may be no line protruding from the bottom. Such information is helpful in judging trends.
The length of the body, just as does the length of the bar in a bar chart, give a visual indication of the range of prices for that period. That is a visual measure of the volatility of prices, a very important factor in trading.
Candlesticks will form patterns as they are charted over time. Those patterns aid investors in making trading decisions. Those patterns have colorful names, such as the Hammer, the Hanging Man, the Morning Star and others. But though the names are fanciful, the purpose is serious: to help detect and predict trends.
Various patterns suggest trends that can be used as part of a trading strategy. Interpreting them, however, is part science, part art. The broker and software you select can help you understand them, provided you are willing to make the effort to study them over time.