The Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) is one of the most popular technical indicators used by forex traders. This versatile indicator can help identify trends, momentum, and potential entry and exit points. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using the MACD indicator when trading currencies.

What is the MACD Indicator?

The MACD is a trend-following momentum indicator that compares two moving averages to analyze market momentum and identify potential trend changes. It was created in 1979 by famous technical analyst Gerald Appel.

macd chart

The MACD is calculated by subtracting the 26-period exponential moving average (EMA) from the 12-period EMA. This difference is then plotted as a histogram along with a 9-period EMA signal line. The histogram oscillates above and below a centerline at zero, which helps indicate momentum direction and convergence/divergence of the two moving averages.

Key Features and Uses of MACD

Here are some of the main features and common uses of the MACD indicator:

  • Identifying Trends – The MACD turns positive when the short-term EMA crosses above the long-term EMA, signaling an uptrend. It turns negative when the short-term EMA crosses below, signaling a downtrend.
  • Momentum Changes – The MACD histogram crosses above/below the centerline when momentum is increasing/decreasing. This can signal early trend shifts.
  • Overbought/Oversold Levels – Extreme high or low MACD readings can indicate overbought or oversold conditions.
  • Divergence – Divergence between price and the MACD can foreshadow reversals. For example, price makes a new high but the MACD doesn’t can signal waning momentum.
  • Signal Line Crossovers – Crossovers between the MACD line and signal line indicate shifts in momentum that can lead to trend changes.
  • Entry/Exit Points – Certain MACD patterns can help traders identify potential entry and exit points in the market.

As you can see, the MACD is very versatile. Next, we’ll explore how to calculate and interpret the indicator.

How to Calculate the MACD

macd settings

The MACD calculation stems from its three underlying components – the 12 and 26-period EMAs, and the 9-period signal line. Here is the step-by-step calculation:

  1. Calculate the 12-period EMA of the price:

12-period EMA = (Price(t) x k) + (EMA(y) x (1-k))


t = today

y = yesterday’s EMA

k = 2 ÷ (N+1) = 2 ÷ (12+1) = 0.1538

  • Calculate the 26-period EMA using the same formula.
  • Subtract the 26-period EMA from the 12-period EMA to get the MACD line.
  • Calculate the 9-period EMA of the MACD line. This is the signal line.
  • The histogram is the difference between the MACD line and signal line. It oscillates above/below the centerline at 0.

That’s the essence of the MACD formula. While it may seem complex, charting platforms like MetaTrader 4 do the calculations seamlessly behind the scenes. You just have to interpret the resulting indicator.

How to Interpret the MACD

When examining the MACD chart, there are five elements to analyze:

  1. Zero Line – The level that separates positive and negative MACD values. The centerline at zero.
  2. MACD Line – The 12-26 EMA difference, shown as a solid line.
  3. Signal Line – The 9-period EMA of the MACD line, shown as a dashed line.
  4. MACD Histogram – The difference between the MACD line and signal line, shown as a bar graph.
  5. Positive and Negative Values – Positive MACD values mean the 12-period EMA is above the 26-period EMA, signaling upside momentum. Negative values indicate downside momentum.

MACD Line and Signal Line

The interplay between the MACD line and signal line is key for traders:

  • When the MACD line crosses above the signal line, it signifies upside momentum is accelerating and can act as a buy signal.
  • When the MACD line crosses below the signal line, it signals downside momentum is accelerating and can act as a sell signal.
  • When the lines converge and cross, it signals a potential change in the direction of the trend.

MACD line/signal line crossover chart example.

MACD Histogram

The MACD histogram further helps traders gauge momentum:

  • When the histogram is above the centerline, it shows upside momentum is increasing.
  • When the histogram is below the centerline, it indicates downside momentum is increasing.
  • When the histogram crosses into positive territory, it can act as a buy signal. When it crosses into negative territory, it can act as a sell signal.
  • Divergence between the histogram and price indicates a disconnect between momentum and price. For example, a new price high not confirmed by the MACD histogram signals waning upside momentum.

MACD histogram oscillating above/below centerline.

By analyzing the MACD line, signal line, and histogram, traders can identify shifts in momentum to time trades. Next we’ll go through some chart patterns.

MACD Trading Strategies

The MACD produces many distinct chart patterns that savvy traders use to analyze trends and enter trades. Here are some of the most common MACD trading strategies:

1. MACD Histogram Crossover

This straightforward strategy simply trades the crossover of the MACD histogram across the centerline.

Buy signal: The histogram crosses from below to above the centerline

Sell signal: The histogram crosses from above to below the centerline

Since the crossover shows a change in momentum direction, traders enter a trade in the direction of the crossover. Stops are placed just outside recent swing highs or lows.

2. MACD Line/Signal Line Crossover

This strategy trades the crossover between the MACD line and signal line.

Buy signal: The MACD line crosses above the signal line

Sell signal: The MACD line crosses below the signal line

The MACD line crossing the signal line shows momentum direction has changed. Traders go long or short based on the crossover direction. Stops are placed beyond the crossover point to allow for some wiggle room.

3. MACD Divergence

Divergence clues traders into a momentum mismatch between MACD and price.

Buy signal: Price makes a lower low, but MACD forms a higher low

Sell signal: Price makes a higher high, but MACD forms a lower high

Since divergence signals waning momentum, traders take trades in the opposite direction of the price move when divergence occurs. Stops are placed just beyond the price extreme.

4. Overbought/Oversold Levels

Extreme high or low MACD readings indicate overbought or oversold conditions.

Overbought sell signal: MACD reaches very high positive levels

Oversold buy signal: MACD reaches very low negative levels

When the MACD hits extremes, it shows momentum has gotten overextended. Traders fade the move and enter in anticipation of an imminent reversal. Initial stops are placed beyond the overbought/oversold level.

5. Multiple Signal Confirmation

For higher probability trades, traders can combine MACD strategies by waiting for two or more signals to align.

For example, only taking buy trades when the MACD histogram crosses up AND the MACD line crosses above the signal line. The more convergence, the higher the quality of the signal.

Optimizing MACD Settings

The default MACD parameter settings are 12, 26, and 9. However, traders can fine-tune the indicator by adjusting these three variables:

Fast MA Period – The default is 12. Lower values produce a more sensitive MACD, while higher values smooth it out. 8-16 is the typical range.

Slow MA Period – The default is 26. Higher values will show less sensitivity to price fluctuations. 20-30 is commonly used.

Signal Period – Default is 9. Lower values produce a faster signal line with more crossover points. 5-10 is often optimal.

Optimizing these variables can help match the MACD to different trading timeframes, instruments, and strategies. For example, more sensitive settings like (8, 21, 5) work well for short-term forex trading on smaller timeframes like 5 or 15-minutes.

Conversely, smoother settings like (18, 27, 10) are appropriate for swing trading the daily or weekly chart.

Traders should experiment to find the optimal balance for their timeframe and market. Some key considerations when adjusting MACD settings are:

  • Timeframe being analyzed
  • Market volatility
  • Desired sensitivity
  • Frequency of signals desired
  • Combination with other indicators

Finding the ideal settings for your trading approach is a process of trial and error. The default parameters are a good starting point.


The MACD and Relative Strength Index (RSI) are both very popular momentum oscillators. Let’s compare how they differ:

  • The MACD is calculated using moving averages, while the RSI uses changes between gains and losses over time.
  • The MACD outputs values ranging from negative infinity to positive infinity. The RSI oscillates between 0 and 100.
  • The MACD measures absolute momentum, while the RSI measures relative momentum compared to previous performance.
  • The MACD aims to identify trend direction and strength. The RSI is better suited for identifying overbought/oversold levels.
  • The MACD incorporates a signal line for analyzing crossovers. The RSI relies solely on level breaks above 70 or below 30.
  • The MACD adapts quickly to price changes. The RSI is less reactive and smoother.

In summary, the MACD is more useful for identifying trend reversals, while the RSI excels at spotting extreme momentum conditions. Many traders use both in conjunction for a more complete picture.

MACD vs. Stochastic Oscillator

The Stochastic oscillator is another popular momentum indicator like the MACD. Here’s how they differ:

  • The MACD compares two moving averages. The Stochastic compares the closing price to its price range over a set lookback period.
  • The MACD outputs unbounded values and a histogram. The Stochastic oscillates between 0 and 100 with %D and %K lines.
  • The MACD aims to identify momentum direction changes. The Stochastic identifies overbought/oversold levels.
  • The MACD is more useful on its own. The Stochastic tends to work better when combined with other indicators.
  • The MACD reacts faster to price fluctuations. The Stochastic is slower and less choppy.

Overall, the MACD is better for identifying trend reversals, while the Stochastic shines for confirming overbought/oversold extremes. Traders often use the Stochastic for additional confirmation of MACD signals.

Pros and Cons of the MACD

Like any indicator, the MACD has its inherent advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the key pros and cons:


  • Effective for identifying momentum and trend changes
  • Signal line crossovers provide clear trading signals
  • Versatile for both trend trading and range trading
  • Customizable settings to adapt to any market
  • Works across all timeframes and instruments
  • Easy to read histogram provides visual cues


  • Can produce many false signals in choppy or range-bound markets
  • Lagging indicator that may enter after much of price move occurs
  • Divergences don’t always lead to reversals
  • Requires combining with other indicators for best results
  • Highly sensitive to input variable settings
  • Difficult to optimize settings perfectly

Overall, the MACD is one of the most valuable indicators available. However, it performs best when combined with complementary indicators to confirm signals and reduce whipsaws.

Best Practices for Trading MACD

Here are some tips for applying the MACD effectively in your forex trading:

  • Use it in conjunction with trend-confirming indicators like moving averages to reduce false signals.
  • Employ other momentum oscillators like the RSI or Stochastic to confirm MACD signals.
  • Focus on clean and strong MACD crossovers that occur above/below the zero line.
  • Make sure upside/downside momentum agrees with crossover signals.
  • Beware of divergence tricks and wait for confirmation before trading.
  • Filter signals by overall market conditions on higher timeframes.
  • Customize settings based on your trading timeframe, volatility levels, and style.
  • Use larger fast/slow moving average periods for smoother MACD signals.
  • Don’t expect perfection. Even with optimization the MACD will whipsaw at times.

The MACD remains one of the most versatile forex trading indicators. When used properly in accord with overall market conditions, it can tip the odds of trading success in your favor.

MACD Trading Tips and Strategies Recap

Let’s recap some of the key MACD trading tips and strategies:

  • Trade crossovers of the MACD line and signal line to catch momentum shifts early. Use faster EMA settings for more sensitivity.
  • Fade extreme MACD readings to profit from overextended momentum.
  • Trade MACD histogram crossovers above/below the zero line. Use zero line rejections as confirmation.
  • Watch for divergence between price and MACD for clues of impending reversals.
  • Use the MACD on lower timeframes like 5 or 15-min charts for short-term trades. Apply to daily and weekly charts for swing trades.
  • Combine MACD with trend-following indicators like moving averages for higher probability setups.
  • Adjust MACD fast, slow, and signal periods to optimize for your strategy and time horizon.
  • Apply the MACD to multiple currency pairs and timeframes when scanning for trading opportunities.

The MACD delivers valuable signals when applied properly. Keep experimenting with settings and combinations to unlock its full potential in your forex trading.

Common MACD Trading Mistakes to Avoid

While the MACD is powerful, it’s also easy to use incorrectly. Here are some common mistakes traders make:

  • Going against the major trend – Don’t take buy signals in a strong downtrend. Use higher timeframes to identify the dominant trend direction first.
  • Not confirming signals – MACD signals require confirmation from other indicators. Don’t enter based on MACD alone.
  • Over-optimizing settings – Avoid over-finessing the fast, slow, and signal periods. Default parameters work just fine for most pairs.
  • Ignoring signal strength – Weak MACD crossovers that occur close to the zero line often fail. Wait for strong and clean breakouts.
  • Forgetting stop loss – Always use a stop loss when trading MACD signals to limit downside. Give the trade room to work.
  • Trading every signal – No indicator is perfect. Pick high probability MACD signals in your strategy and avoid lower probability ones.
  • Not tracking accuracy – Keep a trading journal and track MACD signal performance. Stop trading signals with a low win percentage.

Avoiding these common errors will improve your MACD trading results dramatically. Use the MACD logically, be selective with trades, manage risk, and track performance.

Putting It All Together – A MACD Trading Plan

Here is an example MACD trading plan with rules and guidelines for taking high probability trades:

MACD Settings: Default 12, 26, 9 fast, slow, and signal periods

Entry Rules:

  • Go long when the MACD line crosses above the signal line (buy signal)
  • Enter only in the direction of the overall trend on the hourly chart or higher
  • Look for buy signals only in uptrends and sell signals only in downtrends

Exit Rules:

  • Set initial stop loss 20 pips below entry price
  • Take first partial profit when trade reaches 1:1 risk-reward
  • Move stop to breakeven after price advances past 1:1 risk-reward
  • Take final profit and exit when MACD histogram crosses back below centerline

Risk Management:

  • Risk no more than 2% of account per trade
  • Trade only GBP/USD, EUR/USD, USD/JPY, and EUR/JPY
  • Avoid trading the first hour after major news events

Performance Tracking:

  • Keep a trading journal recording all MACD signals taken
  • Track win/loss rate and average profit/loss
  • Tweak settings or rules if win rate falls below 60% after 20+ trades

Using a structured plan takes the guesswork out of MACD trading. Follow your plan consistently and objectively evaluate performance. Doing so will help improve your MACD trading over time.


The MACD is one of the most versatile forex trading indicators, ideal

for analyzing momentum, trends, and finding potential trade signals. By taking the time to learn how to calculate and interpret the MACD histogram, signal lines, and divergence, forex traders can improve their currency trading outcomes.

However, the MACD is not a magical trading elixir. It performs best when combined with other technical analysis tools to validate and confirm trade signals. Common sense, proper risk management, and trading discipline are still required to properly apply the MACD. Traders should also customize the indicator’s fast, slow, and signal period settings to match their trading style, timeframes, and currency pairs traded.

With experimentation and practice, the MACD can provide a valuable edge in forex trading. Yet traders should remember that no indicator is perfect or trades by itself. Maintain a growth mindset, learn from both successes and failures, and evolve your MACD trading approach over time. By combining the MACD with your in-depth knowledge of forex price action, you can take your trading to the next level.