Understanding Simple Moving Averages: The Essential Tool for Every Trader’s Toolkit


Cody Huelster

May 24th 2023  .  8 min read


“In the world of investing, the name of the game is to anticipate, not follow.” – James Tobin, Nobel Laureate in Economics.

Trading is akin to a high-stakes chess match; every move carries potential risks and rewards. As traders, you’re always on the lookout for the best strategies to master this game. Today, we bring you a deep dive into one such potent tool: the Simple Moving Average (SMA). In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain why SMAs are a trader’s best friend, how to use them effectively, and more. Let’s start unlocking the secrets of SMA.

Table of Contents

  • I. What is a Simple Moving Average (SMA)?
  • II. Why is the SMA Important in Trading?
  • III. How to Calculate a Simple Moving Average
  • IV. Using SMA in Trading Strategies
  • V. Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using SMA

What is a Simple Moving Average (SMA)? 

A Simple Moving Average is arguably one of the most basic forms of technical analysis, used to identify trends and reversals. It’s a calculation that averages a series of data points over a specific period. By “smoothing” out price fluctuations, it provides a clearer picture of the overall trend.

The SMA is straightforward, hence its name. It’s simply the average price over a given period. For example, if you’re looking at a 10-day SMA of stock, you’d add up the closing prices of the past 10 days and divide by 10. This gives you the average price of the stock over this period.

However, the real value of an SMA comes from its ability to reveal trends over time. As new data is added and old data falls off, the moving average line shifts, highlighting the direction of a stock’s movement – upward, downward, or sideways.

Why is the SMA Important in Trading? 

The SMA is a critical tool in a trader’s arsenal, largely because it provides actionable insights about market trends. Traders often use it as a baseline to compare current prices, helping them identify potential buy and sell signals. In the image below, the buy signal formed when the 50 SMA crossed over the 200 SMA to the upside, and remained a valid buy signal for an entire trading week. 

In a volatile market, the SMA can help traders stay ahead by providing a more stable view of price trends, depending on the time frame used. Longer time frames provide more context for making trading decisions. 

More importantly, SMAs can be used in tandem with other indicators, making them versatile tools in various trading strategies. SMAs are often used in conjunction with Exponential Moving Averages (EMAs). They’re adaptable to different time frames and assets, making them a universal tool for all traders.

The Significance of Different SMA Periods

The SMA period you select can profoundly impact the insights you gain. Shorter periods will be more responsive to recent price changes, while longer periods will provide a more smoothed line that’s less sensitive to daily fluctuations but better at identifying long-term trends.

For instance, a 20-day SMA will follow price movements more closely than a 200-day SMA. The 20-day SMA is often used by short-term traders to gauge momentum and potentially identify short-term trends. On the other hand, the 200-day SMA is commonly used by long-term investors as a barometer for long-term market trends.

“A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends,” as the famous investor Barry Ritholtz quipped. The 200-day SMA can help you see when a bull market might be nearing its end by indicating a potential trend reversal.

Using SMA in Trading Strategies

The beauty of the SMA is its versatility. It can be incorporated into a multitude of trading strategies, catering to different styles and timeframes.

One common strategy is the “SMA crossover.” Here, traders plot two SMAs with different periods (like a 50-day and a 200-day SMA). Buy signals are generated when the shorter period (faster) SMA crosses above, the longer period (slower) SMA. Conversely, a sell signal is generated when the faster SMA crosses below, the slower SMA. While we can’t predict the future with certainty, SMAs can give us a clearer picture of where illuminating price trends head us.

Using Simple Moving Averages As Levels of Support and Resistance

Another strategy involves using the SMA as a dynamic support and resistance level. When the price is above the SMA, it can act as a support level, and when the price is below, it can act as resistance. Traders often use these levels to identify potential entry and exit points. In the image below, we can clearly see how the 200 period moving average acts as support when price action is above the SMA.

When price is below the 200 period moving average, it may be considered as bearish. In the image below, we can see that price is rejected when it tries to break above this SMA. This is known as resistance.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using SMA 

While the SMA is a versatile tool, it’s not without its pitfalls. Understanding these can help you use the SMA more effectively.

  • Firstly, one must remember that the SMA is a lagging indicator. This means it’s based on past data and can be slow to respond to recent changes in price. Relying solely on the SMA for buy or sell signals can lead to delayed decisions, which could result in potential losses.
  • Secondly, the SMA may not be as effective in volatile markets. Rapid price swings can lead to frequent crossovers, which might generate false, or mixed signals. In such a scenario, relying only on the SMA could result in misjudged trading decisions. (See image below)
  • Finally, the choice of the SMA period is crucial. A shorter period SMA may provide a lot of signals, but with a higher risk of false positives. A longer period SMA, while reducing the risk of false signals, might result in missing out on early entry or exit points.

Remember, no single technical analysis tool should be used in isolation. The SMA is most effective when combined with other tools and indicators to confirm signals and make more informed trading decisions. This comprehensive approach is the essence of a successful trading strategy.

In conclusion, the SMA is a powerful tool in a trader’s arsenal when used correctly. Understanding its strengths and limitations can help traders navigate the financial markets with more confidence and insight. As the famous saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” And in trading, knowledge certainly is profit.

Key Takeaways

✅ The Simple Moving Average is a fundamental tool used in technical analysis to identify price trends and reversals.

✅ The SMA provides a smoothed line that helps reduce market noise and highlight the underlying trend.

✅ It’s versatile and can be used in various trading strategies, including crossover strategies and as dynamic support and resistance levels.

✅ However, traders should avoid relying solely on the SMA and ensure they use appropriate SMA periods for their trading strategy.


In conclusion, the Simple Moving Average is a valuable tool in the financial market. By smoothing out price data and revealing the underlying trend, it provides a clearer picture of market direction. It’s worth noting that the SMA is a lagging indicator, taking its cues from past price actions. This makes it a bit slow in responding to recent price changes.

Its efficacy is further amplified when combined with other technical analysis tools, helping traders to confirm signals and make more informed decisions. While understanding the limitations of SMA is crucial, its strengths make it an asset for any trader looking to navigate the financial market’s intricacies with more confidence. Just like a seasoned sailor reads the currents and winds to sail smoothly, a well-informed trader uses tools like the SMA to sail through the volatile seas of the financial markets.

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Q: What is a Simple Moving Average (SMA)?

A: The SMA is a calculation that averages a series of data points over a specific period, used to identify market trends.

Q: How is the SMA calculated?

A: The SMA is calculated by adding a set of prices over a certain period and then dividing by the number of prices.

Q: How is the SMA used in trading?

A: The SMA can be used to identify potential buy and sell signals, to detect market trends, and as a dynamic support and resistance level.

Q: What are common mistakes to avoid when using SMA?

A: Relying solely on the SMA for trading decisions can result in making decisions with less context to the overall trends and market conditions. SMAs should be used on multiple timeframes, in conjunction with EMAs and other indicators that provide a wholistic view of what’s happening in the market.

Q: Can the SMA predict future market movements?

A: While the SMA can help identify trends and provide potential buy and sell signals, it cannot predict future market movements with certainty. It should be used in conjunction with other technical analysis tools for a more comprehensive market analysis.

  1. Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets: A Comprehensive Guide to Trading Methods and Applications by John J. Murphy
  2. The New Trading for a Living: Psychology, Discipline, Trading Tools and Systems, Risk Control, Trade Management by Alexander Elder
  3. Simple Moving Average (SMA) – Investopedia