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Death cross and golden cross strategies

Learn about two of the most popular technical analysis​​ charting patterns, the death cross and golden cross, and how to trade these strategies in stocks and forex ​markets.

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What is golden cross and death cross in technical analysis?

The death cross and golden cross are technical analysis terms for when a moving average (MA) intersects with another from either above or below. These technical charting patterns can occur in stocks, forex, ETFs and other financial markets​.

The cross, depending on which it is, can signal the start of a new trend or the end of one. In this article, we explain how to identify and interpret a golden cross from a death cross, as well as the strategies for executing trades with them.

What are the death cross and golden cross signals?

The death cross and golden cross are simple technical analysis indicators that alert traders when a price trend may be turning bearish or bullish​​​.

The indicators use both 200-day and 50-day MAs to signal whether a death cross or golden cross has occurred. When the 50-day MA crosses above the 200-day MA from below, this is a golden cross. Meanwhile, a death cross is when the 50-day MA is above the 200-day MA and then crosses below the 200-day MA.

A golden cross indicates that prices may be starting to rise in a new uptrend and, therefore, a long position may be preferred by traders. Once a death cross occurs, the price of the asset is potentially starting a new downtrend, which could mean that short selling or exiting long positions would be preferred by traders.

Since these are longer-term MAs, the signals are not typically used for day trading​​​. However, the same concept could be applied to a one-minute chart​​ with 200-minute and 50-minute MAs.

The 200-day and 50-day MAs are not set in stone. A trader may opt to use different MA time horizon lengths. In that case, a death cross is when the shorter timeframe moves below the longer timeframe, and the golden cross is when the shorter one moves above the longer one.

Should we use EMA or SMA for cross signals?

Simple moving averages​​ (SMA) calculate the average of price data over the period. They are the more widely used MA, although each trader can decide for themselves which type of moving average they prefer. One is not better than another.

The calculation for an exponential moving average​​ (EMA) places a higher weighting on recent price action than an SMA does. This means that an EMA reacts more quickly to price changes. For example, if the price of an asset drops, a 200-day EMA will start to turn down before a 200-day SMA. This means the SMA is slower to react to price changes.

Both are useful in that they are both providing slightly different information. Traders and investors usually pick one type of MA and stick with it.

What timeframes should I use these signals on?

Investors often use these signals on a daily price chart since the death cross and golden cross use 200-day and 50-day MAs.

Traders are not confined to these parameters. They may opt to use 200-period and 50-period MAs on any timeframe of their choosing. Applying these indicators to a one-minute or five-minute chart would provide short-term trade signals​​ and highlight potential short-term changes in direction.

An hourly or 4-hour-chart would provide slightly longer-term signals of trend changes, over weeks and months typically. Applied to a weekly chart, the MA would highlight trend changes over the course of many years in some cases.

The time periods of 200 and 50 could also be altered. Some traders prefer using a 100 and 20, or 50 and 10. The idea is the same. When the shorter-term MA crosses the longer-term one, it may signal that a trend change is underway on that timeframe.

What are some examples of the golden cross?

The chart below shows two examples of a golden cross in the currency pair EUR/USD.

The first buy signal occurs when the 50-day MA crosses above the 200-day MA based on a daily close. A trade is placed at the start of the next price bar at 1.1294. The trade remains open until the 50-day MA crosses back below the 200-day MA.

In the above example, this occurred almost a year later. The closing price for the trade was 1.1776. If a trader is risking $1 per pip on a spread betting trade, the trade profited $482 ((1.1776 – 1.1294) x $1).

The next golden cross didn’t fare as well. When the bullish crossover occurred, the trade was taken at the start of the next candle at 1.2090. The sell signal occurred a little more than two months later at 1.1866. If risking $1 per pip on spread bet trade the loss amounted to $224 ((1.1866-1.2090) x $1).

There are also overnight holding costs​​​ or credits to consider when calculating profit/loss, which could increase or decrease the overall return. In forex, holding costs are affected by the interest rates of the countries in the currency pair (EUR/USD, in this case).

What are some examples of the death cross?

The chart below shows two examples of the death cross using the UK 100 stock index. These examples use a one-minute chart and a 200-minute and 50-minute MA. The shorter timeframe helps to avoid overnight holding costs since trades typically only last several hours or less.

The first short on the death cross occurred at 7164.87, with an exit at 7169.97. If the trader risked $10 per point, this would have netted a loss of $51 ((7164.87 – 7169.97) x $10).

The second trade results in a profit of $181.90 if risking $10 per point. The entry is 7162.40, and the exit is 7144.21.

How to trade the death and golden cross technical analysis signals

  1. Open an account to start trading CFDs.
  2. Open a chart of any instrument from our product library in the Next Generation trading platform. Double click a financial product to open a chart or start typing a product name in the box.
  3. With the chart open, click ‘Technicals’ at the bottom.
  4. Click the SMA button twice to add two MAs to the chart.
  5. Hover over the chart, and you will see the SMA listed in the upper left corner.
  6. Set one of the SMAs to 50 and the other to 200. Do this by clicking on the indicator and setting the ‘length’ to 50 for one and 200 for the other.
  7. To save these indicators on your chart, so you don’t need to add them every time you open a new chart, click ‘Templates’ near the upper left of the chart. Click the save button next to Default Template (or any of the other Templates). When you open a new chart, you can apply the Template to bring back the MAs.
  8. When the 50 crosses above the 200, you can click the offer price to buy in the upper-right corner of the chart. Input the bet amount, and the stop-loss​ and take profit prices (both optional). Click ‘Place Order’. Once the daily price bar/candle has closed resulting in a crossover occurring of the MAs, the trade is typically taken at the start of the next candle.
  9. When the 50 crosses below the 200, you can click the bid price to short sell in the upper right corner of the chart. Input the bet amount, and then stop-loss and take profit prices (both optional). Click ‘Place Order’.
  10. To close a trade, click the ‘X’ next to a position in the ‘Positions’ window.
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What is the success rate of golden and death cross signals?

Several studies have been conducted on these crossover signals. Most have looked at buying an index fund​ or ETF, like the S&P 500​​, when a golden cross occurs, and then selling when the death cross occurs (without shorting).

In one backtesting​ study by the Trade Risk, covering a period from 2000 to 2020, the strategy returned more than 118%. Buying and holding the same fund over the same period would have returned 263%.

In another study conducted by the Chart Report, covering a period from 1896 to mid-2016, it was found that the average return on a golden cross was 2.12% three months after the signal occurred, and 3.43% six months after the signal. Buying on the golden cross produced a profit just over 60% of the time, and lost money just under 40% of the time. Winning trades were marginally more profitable than losing trades.

This data indicates that it is possible to make money using the method, but the returns tend to be inferior to even a buy-and-hold strategy. Therefore, the method is more likely to be used in conjunction with other strategies to help boost the returns.

What other moving average technical analysis signals should I know?

Another technical charting pattern is when the price of the asset crosses above or below a MA.

For example, if the price crosses above a MA from below, that could signal the start of an uptrend. When the price crosses below a MA, that could signal the start of a downtrend.

Shorter-term traders may use a 10- or 20-period MA on their chosen timeframe, such as a one-minute or five-minute chart. Longer-term traders may use a 50-, 100-, or 200-period MA on an hourly or daily chart, for example.

  • The MACD​​​​ is a technical indicator that is based on the difference or separation between two MAs (chosen in the settings for the indicator). In this way, the indicator can be used to signal crossovers of MAs.
  • Bollinger Bands​​​ also apply a MA to the chart, as well as a channel around it (bands) based on standard deviation from the MA. These bands may help traders to identify trends and spot potential trend-reversal points.