MACD Indicator - How to use MACD in Forex Trading

The MACD indicator is one of the most popular technical analysis tools. Discover how MACD indicator helps you “predict” market turning points, increase your winning rate, and identify explosive breakout before it really happens. 

What is the MACD Indicator

The Moving Average Convergence/Divergence oscillator (MACD) is one of the simplest and most effective momentum indicators available. The MACD turns two trend-following forex indicators, moving averages, into a momentum oscillator by subtracting the longer moving average from the shorter one. As a result, the MACD offers the best of both worlds: trend following and momentum.

The MACD fluctuates above and below the zero line as the moving averages converge, cross and diverge. Traders can look for signal line crossovers, centerline crossovers and divergences to generate signals. Because the MACD is unbounded, it is not particularly useful for identifying overbought and oversold levels.

Here is an example chart with the MACD indicator in the lower panel:

MACD Calculation

The MACD line is the 12-day Exponential Moving Average (EMA) less the 26-day EMA. Closing prices are used for these moving averages. A 9-day EMA of the MACD line is plotted with the indicator to act as a signal line and identify turns. The MACD Histogram represents the difference between MACD and its 9-day EMA, the signal line. The histogram is positive when the MACD line is above its signal line and negative when the MACD line is below its signal line.

The values of 12, 26 and 9 are the typical settings used with the MACD, though other values can be substituted depending on your trading strategy and goals.

MACD Trading Signals

As its name implies, the MACD is all about the convergence and divergence of the two moving averages. Convergence occurs when the moving averages move towards each other. Divergence occurs when the moving averages move away from each other. The shorter moving average (12-day) is faster and responsible for most MACD movements. The longer moving average (26-day) is slower and less reactive to price changes in the underlying security.

The MACD line oscillates above and below the zero line, which is also known as the centerline. These crossovers signal that the 12-day EMA has crossed the 26-day EMA. The direction, of course, depends on the direction of the moving average cross. Positive MACD indicates that the 12-day EMA is above the 26-day EMA. Positive values increase as the shorter EMA diverges further from the longer EMA. This means upside momentum is increasing. Negative MACD values indicate that the 12-day EMA is below the 26-day EMA. Negative values increase as the shorter EMA diverges further below the longer EMA. This means downside momentum is increasing.

In the forex trading example above, the yellow area shows the MACD line in negative territory as the 12-day EMA trades below the 26-day EMA. The initial cross occurred at the end of September (black arrow) and the MACD moved further into negative territory as the 12-day EMA diverged further from the 26-day EMA. The orange area highlights a period of positive MACD values, which is when the 12-day EMA was above the 26-day EMA. Notice that the MACD line remained below 1 during this period (red dotted line). This means the distance between the 12-day EMA and 26-day EMA was less than 1 point, which is not a big difference.

MACD Centerline Crossover

Centerline crossovers are the next most common MACD signals. A bullish centerline crossover occurs when the MACD line moves above the zero line to turn positive. This happens when the 12-day EMA of the underlying security moves above the 26-day EMA. A bearish centerline crossover occurs when the MACD moves below the zero line to turn negative. This happens when the 12-day EMA moves below the 26-day EMA.

Centerline crossovers can last a few days or a few months, depending on the strength of the trend. The MACD will remain positive as long as there is a sustained uptrend. The MACD will remain negative when there is a sustained downtrend. The next chart shows a stock with at least four centerline crosses in nine months. The resulting signals worked well because strong trends emerged with these centerline crossovers.

MACD Divergence

Divergences form when the MACD diverges from the price action of the underlying security. A bullish divergence forms when a security records a lower low and the MACD forms a higher low. The lower low in the security affirms the current downtrend, but the higher low in the MACD shows less downside momentum. Despite decreasing, downside momentum is still outpacing upside momentum as long as the MACD remains in negative territory. Slowing downside momentum can sometimes foreshadow a trend reversal or a sizable rally.

A bearish divergence forms when a security records a higher high and the MACD line forms a lower high. The higher high in the security is normal for an uptrend, but the lower high in the MACD shows less upside momentum. Even though upside momentum may be less, upside momentum is still outpacing downside momentum as long as the MACD is positive. Waning upward momentum can sometimes foreshadow a trend reversal or sizable decline.

Divergences should be taken with caution. Bearish divergences are commonplace in a strong uptrend, while bullish divergences occur often in a strong downtrend. Yes, you read that right. Uptrends often start with a strong advance that produces a surge in upside momentum (MACD). Even though the uptrend continues, it continues at a slower pace that causes the MACD to decline from its highs. Upside momentum may not be as strong, but it will continue to outpace downside momentum as long as the MACD line is above zero. The opposite occurs at the beginning of a strong downtrend.

Setting up the MACD in MetaTrader 4/5

This guide shows you how to set up the moving average convergence divergence (MACD) indicator in MetaTrader 4/5.

Add the MACD and set the parameters of this indicator

  • Click Insert and move your mouse over Indicators and Trend
  • Click MACD

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Setting the common parameters

After you have completed the step above, the settings menu appears.

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Most indicators can be controlled by several common parameters.

There are two types of parameters:

  • Calculations of the indicator: e.g. the number of time periods used for the MACD (you do not need to worry too much about this in the beginning)
  • Visuals of an indicator: e.g. how it will look, the color and thickness of the lines, etc.

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The parameter menu appears again where you can change the indicator.

How to change the MACD settings at a later time

To change the settings of the MACD indicator directly on the chart at a later date:

  • Right-click the MACD - you will have to be exactly on the line of the indicator to get the options menu.
  • Choose MACD-2 (13,17,9) - the numbers 13, 17 and 9 refer to the number of time periods the indicator bases its calculations on and you can change these depending on your preference.

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How to delete the MACD indicator

To delete MACD:

  • Right-click the indicator that you want to delete - you will have to be exactly on the line of the indicator to get the menu shown below
  • Click Delete Indicator

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Final words about MACD indicator

The MACD indicator is special because it brings together momentum and trend in one indicator. This unique blend of trend and momentum can be applied to daily, weekly or monthly charts. The standard setting for MACD is the difference between the 12- and 26-period EMAs. Chartists looking for more sensitivity may try a shorter short-term moving average and a longer long-term moving average. MACD(5,35,5) is more sensitive than MACD(12,26,9) and might be better suited for weekly charts. Chartists looking for less sensitivity may consider lengthening the moving averages. A less sensitive MACD will still oscillate above/below zero, but the centerline crossovers and signal line crossovers will be less frequent.

The MACD is not particularly good for identifying overbought and oversold levels. Even though it is possible to identify levels that are historically overbought or oversold, the MACD does not have any upper or lower limits to bind its movement. During sharp moves, the MACD can continue to over-extend beyond its historical extremes.

Finally, remember that the MACD line is calculated using the actual difference between two moving averages. This means MACD values are dependent on the price of the underlying security. The MACD values for a $20 stocks may range from -1.5 to 1.5, while the MACD values for a $100 may range from -10 to +10. It is not possible to compare MACD values for a group of securities with varying prices. 

Understanding how to use MACD indicator correctly is important, but if you want some help, MetaTrader 5 AM Broker offers a useful MACD toolkit and our trainers can provide you the right guidance. Play around in a ​demo account and notice how MACD indicator can make you serious money. Alternative, use an Expert Advisor Builder and generate automated trading strategies using MACD in a few clicks, without writing codes.

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