Trading 101: Determining and Trading Trend Strength

Trend-following trading remains the most popular approach to trading in the retail segment, both in crypto and other markets. However, before taking positions in the direction of a trend, it is crucial to determine if the trend is gaining or losing strength. As trend traders, we need to make sure we are only taking trades in trends that are building up, and not those that are fading.

While we have covered the basics of trend-following trading in the past, and also revealed several trend-following strategies, we will here focus on how you can determine if a trend is worth trading, using both systematic and discretionary tools.

Trend waves and pullbacks

Studying trend waves and pullbacks during a trend forms the basis of a discretionary approach to determining trend strength.

In a trending market, small pullbacks signal strength in the trend. If each pullback is getting increasingly smaller as the trend continues, we can say that the trend is picking up momentum. Another thing we often see in strong bullish trends in that the pullback is not really a pullback, but rather a sideways consolidation of the price. This indicates that bulls are strongly in control of the market, buying up even the smallest dip in prices.

On the other hand, as pullbacks get larger and occur more frequently, we can take it as a sign that the trend is losing momentum and the price may reverse into the opposite direction soon.

Moving Averages

Moving Averages are probably some of the best-known tools for trend traders, and for good reason. They are incredibly simple to use, and can provide powerful signals in almost all markets.

The most common way to determine trend strength with Moving Averages is to apply two Moving Average lines to the chart; one slower and one faster. For example, combining the 20 and 50 period Moving Averages is a common strategy among swing traders in both forex, stocks, and crypto (the lower the period setting of the Moving Average is, the faster it reacts to changes in the price).

In a strong uptrend, we should have the faster moving average staying consistently above the slower Moving Average. If the distance between the two moving average lines grows, it means that the trend is gaining momentum, and if the distance between them shrinks, the trend is losing momentum.

If the two lines cross over each other, this is often taken as a sign that the trend is about to reverse. Many successful trend-following strategies follow the simple logic of buying an asset when the faster Moving Average crosses over the slower one, and selling an asset when the slower Moving Average crosses over the faster one.

Price rejection

What we call rejection of higher or lower prices in technical analysis is most easily spotted using traditional candlestick charts and looking for long wicks sticking out either above or below the “body” of the candles, as in the screenshot below.

Price rejection

In this chart, we can clearly see that we had a strong bullish trend and that the price attempted to extent the trend further, but repeatedly got rejected by the market. After four attempts at going higher, this market lost all bullishness and went into an extended downtrend.

Relative Strength Index (RSI)

As the name implies, RSI is an indicator that measures strength. In just the same way as we define an uptrend in price as a series of higher lows and higher highs, the RSI line should also make higher lows and higher highs when the market is trending up. In non-trending (range-bound) markets, the RSI generally moves sideways and stays between readings of 30 and 70.

As trends come to an end, we sometimes see divergences between the trend of the RSI and the price itself. For example, price may be making a new higher high, while the RSI line fails at making a new high, or even makes a new lower high, as we have two examples of in the screenshot below:

RSI divergence

Average Directional Index (ADX)

This is the classic trend indicator that many traders still use. The indicator consists of a red line and a green line and it basically says that a green line above a red line means we are in an uptrend. In the opposite case, a red line above a green line would mean that we are in a downtrend. If the two lines are close together it means that the market is not clearly trending, but rather stuck in a range.

Trend-following strategies sometimes make use of the ADX indicator in combination with Moving Averages to find strong price trends to ride. The ADX could then help determine the strength of the trend while for example cross-overs of two Moving Averages could serve as entry and exit points.

Which one should you use?

Perhaps unfortunately, which specific indicator to use in your trend-following trading really comes down to personal preferences. There is no right or wrong indicator to use, nor is there any right or wrong way to combine indicators and create your own trading strategy.

That said, most traders try to avoid combining indicators that are measuring the same thing. For example, ADX, Moving Averages and MACD are all considered trend indicators, while RSI and Stochastic are considered momentum indicators. In other words, you could combine Moving Averages and RSI, but should avoid combining Moving Averages and ADX with each other.

Experimentation is also fine, but instead of trying to learn how to use lots of different indicators, a better strategy is generally to use a few and become an expert at them. They are all powerful in their own way, it just comes down to the trader to master them.

Featured image from Pixabay.

Fredrik Vold is an entrepreneur, financial writer, and technical analysis enthusiast. He has been working and traveling in Asia for several years, and is currently based out of Beijing, China. He closely follows stocks, forex and cryptocurrencies, and is always looking for the next great alternative investment opportunity.