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Understanding Leading and Lagging Technical Indicators

As a trader, you may be interested in learning more about lagging and leading indicators and how they work. To properly understand how these indicators differ, we need to begin unpacking technical analysis, patterns and charts. We discuss the best leading and lagging indicators.

Forex Commodities Indices
5 min read
Ed Moya
Edward Moya
Contributing Author at OANDA

What is technical analysis?

Many forex traders embrace technical analysis when trading online. It allows us to analyze how past and present price action in any financial instrument could help determine future price moves without requiring you to stay on top of the economy, geopolitical risks and the constant shifts of investor sentiment. All it requires is for you to be able to identify technical indicators and understand what they mean.

Conducting a technical analysis is one avenue to identify whether you’re investing at an opportune time. “Is the coin still too high? Will it drop lower?” are questions you need to ask yourself whilst forex trading. There are many technical indicators that try to capture how the forex market is trending despite all the noise that comes from economic releases, monetary policy decisions, political events, natural disasters and war. 

Due to the complexities of trading with forex, technical indicators are displayed on many different types of charts. The most common types of charts are bar, line, point and figure and candlestick charts.

Lagging vs leading indicators

Trading online requires calculated risks, and an effective technical analysis offers the best way of doing so. There are many different technical analysis strategies and most of them can be categorized as either a leading or lagging indicator. So, leading vs lagging indicators, how do they differ?

Using past price data, leading indicators aim to forecast future price movements – allowing traders to enter markets before they rise or fall. If you get this right, there is a good probability that you'll be heading in a profitable direction.

Lagging indicators influence a more conservative (but safer) approach. Rather than entering a market before a change in price, traders wait for the move before investing.

Leading indicators

Leading indicators attempt to identify patterns that repeat with a great deal of regularity. When such a pattern is revealed, the probability of it happening again increases.

Support and Resistance levels

Support and resistance levels represent where the market price is at its peak or bottom. There are various methods of measuring these levels, with stop-loss orders and Fibonacci retracement being the two popular approaches.

So, why is it an important indicator? Resistance levels are points where prices have repeatedly pulled back, and support levels are where it has bottomed out. If the market price continues to rise above resistance, it showcases that the asset has upward momentum and could break out from the body. Prices that are continuously bottoming support indicate the opposite.

Pattern Recognition

Conducting pattern recognition is the process of identifying patterns and regularities within a chart. There are three primary patterns to understand when identifying patterns.

1. Ascending/descending triangles: They occur when a flat line connects the recent price highs, while a diagonal line connects the higher price lows. After the line is drawn between both points, it should represent a triangle. 

2. Triple and double tops and bottoms: This is the pattern of a price consecutively bouncing off the support and resistant levels. Usually, double or triple patterns indicate that the price will move in the opposite direction. For example, if the price ricochets down to up, rather than up to down, it believes the prices will rise.

3. Head and shoulders: It requires identifying three different peaks; two smaller peaks (referred to as shoulders), and a much larger middle peak (known as the head). The methodology behind this pattern is that when all three peaks point upward, the price will drop. Whereas, when they point downwards, the price will rise.

Elliott Wave Theory

Through identifying intermediate cycles, the hypothesis of Elliot Wave theory is that market prices unfold in specific patterns. The two modes of wave development are motive and corrective. 

A complete cycle contains eight waves, starting with a five-wave motive phase, followed by a three-wave corrective phase. This requires in-depth analysis and should be carried out by experienced traders. As a beginner, focus on other indicators with the aim of eventually identifying cycles within the market.

Lagging indicators

Lagging indicators focus on trend, sentiment, flow-of-funds and market structure indicators. From experienced to beginner traders, they have become popular indicators in forex trading. The majority of analyzing tools are lagging indicators as they are based on price trends, and don’t provide a signal until the market makes a move.

Moving Averages

Great for beginners and used by professionals, moving averages is the process of dividing the number of data points over a chosen period by the total of each data point.

Analyzing moving averages during long-term bull or bear runs introduces clearer confirmations of where the market is going.

Stochastic Oscillator

A stochastic oscillator helps to identify oversold and overbought conditions by tracking where the closing price finishes. In an uptrend, the closing price typically finishes near the highs. If the closing price is unable to stay near the high or low, it suggests that momentum is slowing. Stochastics perform better in rangebound markets, which makes it less effective in strong trending markets.

Relative Strength Index

Similar to the stochastic oscillator, a Relative Strength Index (RSI) focuses on buying behavior by measuring the price movement of a market. With an index between zero and 100, above 70 indicates the asset has been overbought, below 30 suggests oversold and in between indicates a potentially good time to invest.

Looking for the best trading platform? Try your hand at trading with OANDA

If you’re interested in learning more about how technical indicators work and would like to try your hand at using these indicators with forex data, consider the OANDA Trade platform. Our Technical Analysis solutions provide a quick overview of the state of the markets before you start your trading day. So you continuously scan and analyze the intraday markets using automatic chart pattern recognition and pattern quality indicators.

Ready to start trading? Apply for a demo to become familiar with our platform and get a sense of how the market works to test your trading results. Find out for yourself why OANDA was voted 'Most Popular Broker 2022' (TradingView Broker Awards 2022).


This article is for general information purposes only. It is not investment advice or a solution to buy or sell instruments. Opinions are the authors; not necessarily that of OANDA Corporation or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, officers or directors. Leveraged trading is high risk. Losses can exceed deposits. While this article discusses technical analysis, other analysis, such as fundamental analysis, may assert different views.