Spotting Market “highs” and “lows” Using Technical Indicators

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Can we spot market highs and lows using technical indicators? The answer is yes, provided a user understands the pros and cons of each method. I discuss the current state of a few technical indicators and discuss their benefits and limitations. This post is in-part triggered by comments from Dhinesh Kumar here: Timing the market by spotting bullish and bearish trends

Before we begin, if you have missed the last couple of posts, you can catch up right now.

There are several technical indicators available for trading. Smart traders combine many indicators to minimize their losses. Smart traders also understand that in real-time making decisions is far tougher than looking at a chart in hindsight and that things can go wrong.

The problem is that many people who talk about technical analysis act and talk like they know the knows of nature and markets. They sound so sure of themselves, that it is repulsive. It is a blind marriage to the indicators. The situation is similar to many who have a “guruji”. If a cup falls off a table and is not broken because it fell on their feet first, many would claim, “the grace of guruji saved the cup from breaking”. Such is the blind faith and acceptance of technical indicators.

I am not saying such indicators do not work, they do, but like everything in life, if you want some the good, you have to live with the bad. The problem is many sound as if there is no bad and the indicators will work “for sure”. The other extreme is the so-called investors (especially those who call themselves value investors) who blindly dismiss technical indicators as nonsense.

What follows is an open-minded approach to the topic. The problem is never with any formula or indicator. The problem is with the humans who use it or rather who fail to use it right. Human emotions and inflexibility cloud the true efficacy of these indicators.  That is enough, let us get on with it

The 10-year moving average of the Nifty 50 PE

Readers can plot this and much more with the sheet in Nifty Valuation Analysis with PE, PB, Div Yield, ROE, EPS of 21 NSE Indices. If there is enough interest, I can extend this sheet to include the other indicators discussed today.

The PE ratio is the current price divided by the earnings per share of the index. If the PE is “too high” then the market is paying too high a price for the earnings and must “correct” down (I hate that word now!). If the PE is “too low” then the market is paying too low a price and must correct up.

Have a look at the 10-year moving average (avg) of the Nifty 50 PE (the centre line below).  The standard deviation (stdev) tells you how much each Nifty PE value deviates from the average.  The two lines above the central average line represent:

  • avg + stdev
  • avg + 2*stdev

Similarly, the two lines below the central average line represent:

  • avg – stdev
  • avg – 2*stdev

Now, this imo is the weakest indicator for two reasons. We do not have much data and the average keeps moving with each passing day.  The second graph below shows an expanded view on the recent trend.

The 10-year moving average of the Nifty 50 PE

It is tempting to assume that if the Nifty PE hits the avg + 2*stdev line, it is time to quit equity. However, as you can see, it can move down and move back up quickly. If you go by this indicator, you will have to pull out of equity and stay out for months and months (even ~ 2Y) as seen in Market Timing with Index PE Ratio: Tactical Asset Allocation Backtest Part 1 (this uses high and low values and not moving averages)

IMO, this is neither practical nor reliable as what we call as a high PE is simply too dependent on time: What is a high index PE?. At best it can be used for getting backing into the market, say when Nifty PE is below the moving average (again only a crude indication).

The 10-year moving average of the Nifty 50 PB

Arguments made above can also be used to gauge valuation using the price to book value. The book value or shareholders is a measure of asset assets – liabilities. So it is a bit like the NAV of a ETF and the current market price the price of the ETF.

The 10-year moving average of the Nifty 50 PB

If we go by the above chart, high valuations could correspond to current PB > the 10Y PB average but notice how sharply the average falls. So I don’t think it is that reliable. Also, read: Is PB-based investing better than PE-based investing?

Simple moving average crossovers

I recently discussed this method here: Timing the market by spotting bullish and bearish trends. The idea is to smoothen the daily market movement using an average. For example, on the 365th day, you take the average of the last 365 closing prices), do the same next day and the next and so on.

If you use a single moving average, then when the market price dips below the moving average it is a sell-signal and vice versa. A more reliable method is to use two moving averages and look for crossovers.

You can use 12-month and 6-month, 10-month and 5-month etc. Results will not differ much. Do not spend time backtesting to find out the perfect combination and call it guruji. That is silly.

You can see one such moving average pair below. When the short-term average falls below the long-term average, it is time to quit. When the short-term average moves above the long-term average it is time to re-enter.

Simple moving average crossovers

If you take this seriously, then it is not yet time to exit. The trouble with this indicator is that it generates buy and sells signal well after the fall or rise event. Also, there can be crossovers in quick succession resulting in moving in and out too much.

The question we shall consider for the rest of the post is, it is possible to spot market highs and lows a bit earlier than this method.

Exponential moving average crossovers

The standard alternative to the simple moving average  (SMA)is the exponential moving average. (EMA) This offers higher weight to recent price movement and responds faster than the simple moving average as seen below. The weight to older data decreases exponentially and hence responds faster. The EMA peak is closer to the market peak than the SMA peak, but there is not much different in the case of the troughs.

simple moving average vs exponential moving averageNow have a look at the double EMA crossover.

double exponential moving average crossover

The difference between SMA and EMA is not significant for such long-term indicators. This is because the weight offered to recent price data is quite less for such long-term EMAs.

Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD)

A potentially more sensitive method is to compute the difference between the two EMAs above and then take the moving average of the difference. The MACD seen below is the difference between the 180-day EMA and 365-day EMA. The average of this difference is known as the MACD signal or simply the signal. I have used a 136-day average. Since these are long-term indicators, the usual trading rules will not apply as-is.

nifty moving average convergence divergence

Sell signal: When the MACD goes below its signal.

Buy signal: When the MACD goes above its signal.

exponential moving average vs MACDIf we compare the MACD+signal  with the double EMAs (pic above), notice that the MACD/signal sell signals appear earlier* than the double-EMA sell signal. However, the opposite is true for buy signals. So nothing is perfect! * sometimes months earlier.

Notice the current levels of the MACD/signal and recognise that it hard to make calls in real time and very easy to do so while looking at the past. It will take a good amount of courage, conviction and discipline to follow these technical indicators if you are open-minded about them. Perhaps that is why many people use the guruji technique. If we get rid of reason, we can cheer if our guruji says E is not mc^2 and that there is a software to make animals talk.

Relative Strength Index (RSI)

The simplest definition of the RSI is that it represents recent average gains divided by average losses. If the avg gains are higher than the index is overbought. If the avg losses are higher, the index is oversold. The problem with the RSI is similar to that of the PE or PB ratios. It is based on arbitrary high or low numbers.  I have plotted the 365-day RSI for the Nifty below.

Nifty Relative Strength Index

It is pretty hard to use the RSI for getting out of the market. However, like the PE, a low RSI say 50-ish or lower seems like an indication to buy.


Each technical indicator has flaws so the only option is to combine them so that we use their best features for buying/selling. For example, the MACD sell signal can be used for exit and low RSI for entry. However, this is easier said than done in real-time. Technical indicator bhakts often refuse to recognise this.

Give this sheet a try: Nifty Valuation Analysis with PE, PB, Div Yield, ROE, EPS of 21 NSE Indices. If there is enough interest, I can extend this sheet to include EMA, MACD and RSI.

Missed the last couple of posts? You can catch up right now.





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About the Author M Pattabiraman author of freefincal.comM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the author and owner of  He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras since Aug 2006. Pattu” as he is popularly known, has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management.  He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice. Pattu publishes unbiased, promotion-free research, analysis and holistic money management advice. Freefincal serves more than one million readers a year (2.5 million page views) with numbers based analysis on topical issues and has more than a 100 free calculators on different aspects of insurance and investment analysis. He conducts free money management sessions for corporates  and associations(see details below). Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints, TamilNadu Investors Association etc. Contact information: freefincal {at} Gmail {dot} com (sponsored posts or paid collaborations will not be entertained)
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  1. Thanks for explaining. this is well written and layman like me can understand. Please include RSI, EMA and MACD into nifty valuation sheet.

  2. Dear Pattu,

    Thanks for mentioning me, except for a redundant “h” in my name. But I take it as “h” for honour – that’s what I think they say as positive thinking!

    Well, I am not a bhakth of anything. Whatever I shared is out of my understanding and experience. Taking a cue from having come out of the mantra of SIP-come-whatever-may to moving average cross over, my humble attempt was only to share some value addition to it.

    One allegation on technicians is that they become wiser on hindsight and fail to see and act up on things in real time. Who does not?! Fundamentalists also suffer from time lag. It is human nature. Knowing and acting up on what one knows are two different things! Let more and more be blessed with the faculty to blend these two.

    My appreciation for technical analysis is in its pursuance of creating a mathematical model out of something which is least mathematical – human behaviour. Hence it is not at all infallible. On the other hand, let us assume that technical analysis is infallible, then the one (s) who know the infallible technique would corner all its benefits and the market would stall over night. That, it is not happening, is the proof in itself that technical analysis is not infallible. Mr Market is the ultimate teacher on financial matters. It will punish whosoever takes a rigid view, be it fundamentalist or technician.

    Indicators are like road signs. A ‘Go Slow’ sign board does not always mean that you should go slow. May be that sign board was kept when the road was broken or traffic was bad, but things have now improved but the sign board is still there. So you have to apply your discretion.

    Coming to the content of the post:
    1. I am not sure that duration of the pair of moving averages (SMA or EMA) does not matter in moving average cross over method. A pair of say, 500 day & 250 day MA and a pair of 50 day & 25 day MA, would certainly give different yields over an investment horizon of 5 yrs, 10 yrs, 20 yrs etc.
    2. RSI by itself is not a buy/ sell check point, but divergence in RSI is. Similarly MACD by itself is not a buy/ sell check point, but divergence in MACD is.
    3. When divergences in two Indicators (like RSI and MACD) concur, they are more trust worthy.
    4. Remember, the aim is not to device perfect buy/ sell points (because they exist only on hindsight) but to reduce the pain points in decision making.

  3. With yesterday’s stellar gains, both Nifty 200 and Nifty 500 have posted concurrent Bullish Divergences on both RSI and MACD on Daily charts. This is a great relief for the investors because this could a harbinger of turn around, if rupee and oil do not peeve further. On the flip side S&P 500 of US index is still languishing which not a good sign because Indian market is still a satellite of western market. We can maintain a cautious optimism.

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