What Is The MACD?


Cody Huelster

6 min read


What is the MACD? In the realm of trading, be it for giants of Wall Street or ambitious amateurs operating from a laptop, the words of the legendary Jesse Livermore resonate – “The game of speculation is the most uniformly fascinating game in the world. But it is not a game for the stupid, the mentally lazy, the person of inferior emotional balance, or the get-rich-quick adventurer.” When embarking on this intricate journey, one tool has proven its worth over time – the Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD). But why is MACD so important, and how can it transform your trading strategy?

Join us as we embark on a comprehensive journey through the wonders of MACD, understanding its crux, interpreting its signals, and learning to leverage its indications to optimize our trading strategies.

Table of Contents

  • I. Understanding MACD
  • II. The Math Behind MACD
  • III. Interpreting MACD Signals
  • IV. Practical Examples of MACD
  • V. MACD: Blessing or a Curse?

I. Understanding MACD

The Moving Average Convergence Divergence, aka, the “MACD” is a trend-following momentum-based indicator that reveals the relationship between two moving averages of a security’s underlying price. It’s comprised of two lines – the MACD line and the Signal line – along with a histogram.

The MACD line is the central part of the system, indicating the difference between a short-term exponential moving average (EMA) and a longer-term one. The Signal line, generally a 9-day EMA of the moving average convergence divergence line, trails the MACD can be used as an indication to buy or sell. The histogram visualizes the divergence and convergence of these two lines.

The moving average convergence divergence plot might seem convoluted at first, but it’s like learning a new language. Once you grasp the syntax, it becomes a potent ally in your trading journey.

Detailed MACD plot showcasing its critical components: MACD Line, Signal Line, and Histogram.

II. The Math Behind MACD

To understand moving average convergence divergence in depth, we must delve into its mathematical underpinnings. MACD can be calculated by subtracting the 26-period EMA from the 12-period EMA, which generates the moving average convergence divergence line. The Signal line, a 9-day EMA of the MACD line, is then derived.

The histogram, representing the distance between the MACD and Signal line, is visualized as a bar chart plotted on the centerline, which starts at zero. A positive MACD indicates that the 12-period EMA is above the 26-period EMA. When the MACD goes below the Signal line, it gives a bearish signal indicating it may be time to sell, and vice versa.

While MACD does provide insights, it’s essential not to get carried away by every single signal it provides.

III. Interpreting MACD Signals

Interpreting MACD signals is crucial in understanding market trends. If the MACD line crosses above the Signal line, it can generate a bullish signal implying it might be an excellent time to buy. Conversely, when the MACD line crosses below the Signal line, a bearish signal is generated, indicating it might be time to sell.

Furthermore, the histogram can shed light on the strength of the market trend. If the MACD and Signal line are diverging, it suggests the trend is gaining strength. If they’re converging, the trend might be weakening.

The key to effective trading is not just understanding these signals, but knowing when to act on them, embodying the wisdom of Warren Buffet: “The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.”

MACD plot showcasing instances of bullish cross-over
MACD plot showcasing instances of bearish cross-over

IV. Practical Examples of MACD

Practical examples can highlight the efficacy of MACD. In a bullish scenario, suppose you observe the MACD line crossing above the Signal line, followed by the histogram moving up above the zero line. This indicates a possible surge in price, making it a prime time to buy.

In a bearish scenario, if the MACD line crosses or moves below the Signal line and the histogram dips below zero, it indicates a potential price drop. In this case, selling might be a good option.

Remember, though, that while MACD can guide decision-making, it doesn’t predict future price movements. 

Real-world examples showing bullish and bearish signals on a MACD plot.

V. MACD: Blessing or a Curse?

Despite MACD’s powerful insights, it’s essential to be wary of false signals. Like every indicator, MACD is not foolproof. It might occasionally indicate a price change that never comes to pass, leading to potential losses.

Furthermore, MACD may not be useful in a volatile market with sharp price fluctuations. In such cases, it might generate signals too late, depriving traders of high-profit potential.

While MACD is a powerful tool, it’s vital to use it judiciously, aligning its insights with other indicators and market knowledge. 

Key Takeaways:

  • MACD is a trend-following momentum indicator revealing the relationship between the two moving averages of a security’s underlying price.
  • The MACD is calculated by subtracting the 26-period EMA from the 12-period EMA. The Signal line is a 9-period EMA of the MACD line.
  • If the MACD line crosses above the Signal line, it can be considered a bullish signal. If the MACD line crosses below the Signal line, it can be considered a bearish signal. 
  • MACD can give false signals and might not be reliable in a volatile market.

Conclusion: The Power of Patience in Trading

In the competitive realm of trading, tools like the MACD stand as invaluable assets. While it may seem complex initially, mastering its structure and deciphering its signals can pave the way for a more nuanced understanding of market trends. Implementing MACD in your trading strategy can potentially aid in pinpointing optimal trading points, giving you an edge over others in the market. It equips you to identify promising buy and sell signals, thereby helping you make transactions at the most opportune moments for maximum profitability. Successful trading isn’t about making the highest quantity of transactions; rather, it’s about making transactions of the highest quality. 

Using MACD wisely can assist in transitioning from hasty decisions to calculated, successful trading. If you’re interested in learning more about technical analysis using indicators like the MACD, consider taking advantage of our all-access, free guest pass. Our expert traders provide world-class technical analysis and are often featured on Fox Business and The Money Show. 


Q: What is MACD?

A: MACD is primarily used to identify potential buy and sell signals and to gain insight into the strength and direction of a market trend.

Q: Can MACD be used in all types of markets?

A: While MACD is a versatile tool, its effectiveness might be diminished in markets with sharp price fluctuations.

Q: How reliable is MACD?

A: MACD can provide valuable signals, but like all indicators, it’s not infallible and should be used in conjunction with other tools and market knowledge.


Appel, G. (2005). Technical Analysis: Power Tools for Active Investors. FT Press.

“Technical Analysis Explained, Fifth Edition: The Successful Investor’s Guide to Spotting Investment Trends and Turning Points” by Martin J. Pring, McGraw Hill.