In statistics, a moving average is a calculation to analyze data points by creating a series of averages of different subsets of the full data set.
Given a series of numbers and a fixed subset size, the first element of the moving average is obtained by taking the average of the initial fixed subset of the number series. Then the subset is modified by “shifting forward”; that is, excluding the first number of the series and including the next number following the original subset in the series. This creates a new subset of numbers, which is averaged. This process is repeated over the entire data series. The plot line connecting all the (fixed) averages is the moving average. A moving average is a set of numbers, each of which is the average of the corresponding subset of a larger set of datum points. A moving average may also use unequal weights for each datum value in the subset to emphasize particular values in the subset.
A moving average is commonly used with time series data to smooth out short-term fluctuations and highlight longer-term trends or cycles. The threshold between short-term and long-term depends on the application, and the parameters of the moving average will be set accordingly. For example, it is often used in technical analysis of financial data, like stock prices, returns or trading volumes. It is also used in economics to examine gross domestic product, employment or other macroeconomic time series. Mathematically, a moving average is a type of convolution and so it can be viewed as an example of a low-pass filter used in signal processing. When used with non-time series data, a moving average filters higher frequency components without any specific connection to time, although typically some kind of ordering is implied. Viewed simplistically it can be regarded as smoothing the data.
The period selected depends on the type of movement of interest, such as short, intermediate, or long-term. In financial terms moving-average levels can be interpreted as support in a rising market, or resistance in a falling market.
If the data used are not centered around the mean, a simple moving average lags behind the latest datum point by half the sample width. An SMA can also be disproportionately influenced by old datum points dropping out or new data coming in. One characteristic of the SMA is that if the data have a periodic fluctuation, then applying an SMA of that period will eliminate that variation (the average always containing one complete cycle). But a perfectly regular cycle is rarely encountered.
For a number of applications, it is advantageous to avoid the shifting induced by using only ‘past’ data. Hence a central moving average can be computed, using data equally spaced on either side of the point in the series where the mean is calculated. This requires using an odd number of datum points in the sample window.
A major drawback of the SMA is that it lets through a significant amount of the signal shorter than the window length. Worse, it actually inverts it. This can lead to unexpected artifacts, such as peaks in the smoothed result appearing where there were troughs in the data. It also leads to the result being less smooth than expected since some of the higher frequencies are not properly removed.
Most common SMAs
5 – SMA – For the hyper trader. This short of an SMA will constantly give you signals. The best use of a 5-SMA is as a trade trigger in conjunction with a longer SMA period.
10-SMA – popular with the short-term traders. Great swing traders and day traders.
50-SMA – use the trader to gauge mid-term trends.
200-SMA – welcome to the world of long-term trend followers. Most investors will look for a cross above or below this average to represent if the stock is in a bullish or bearish trend.
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