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What Is An Average Directional Index


The average directional index (ADX) is a technical indicator used in the financial markets to determine the strength of a trend. The ADX can help traders assess when a new trend is starting, when an ongoing trend is continuing, and when a trend is losing momentum.

This article will provide an overview of how the average directional index is calculated, how to interpret ADX readings, and how to incorporate the ADX into an effective trading strategy.

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How the average directional index is calculated

The average directional index is derived from two other directional movement indicators - the Plus Directional Indicator (+DI) and the Minus Directional Indicator (-DI). These two indicators measure the strength of upward and downward price movements over a given period. The difference between the +DI and -DI gives traders critical information about the current market trend.

The ADX calculation uses the true range indicator and smoothing averages applied to the +DI and -DI to show the strength of the overall market trend on a scale from 0 to 100. Values below 20 indicate a weak trend, while values over 40 signal a strong trend. As the average directional index rises, the movement is gaining strength. As ADX falls, it signals the trend is weakening.

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Interpreting average directional index formula

The ADX has three core settings that provide further flexibility in tailoring it to different trading objectives and market conditions.

1. ADX period

The period determines how many bars are used in ADX calculations. The standard is 14 periods, but this can be adjusted based on intended usage. For example, short-term traders may opt for seven periods to make the average directional index more sensitive to recent price swings. Meanwhile, long-term investors could use slower 20 or 30 periods to focus on the more prominent trends.

2. +DI and -DI Period

These directional movement indicators work best when their lookback lengths match the specified ADX period. If ADX is set to 14 bars, then +DI and -DI should also be calculated across 14 bars for optimal alignment. This coordinated setting ensures all components of the indicator system function synergistically.

3. Price Input

Any price data can be selected as the input, including open, high, low, close or medians like typical/weighted close. But generally, the high/low prices feed in the most significant price variability, providing earlier insight into trend changes. Using high/low or candle ranges as the source data enhances sensitivity.

Fine-tuning these ADX indicator settings to match trading time frames or asset classes can optimize signals. Day traders may use shorter 7-period ADX, while swing traders prefer slower 20-period ADX versions. 

Signals to watch out

The most valuable signals that the average directional index produces occur when:

  • ADX is below 20 - This suggests the market is ranging without a strong trend in either direction. The average directional index levels below 20 indicate weak trend strength or consolidation periods in between trends.
  • ADX is above 40 - High average directional index levels above 40 indicate a strong trend likely to continue. The higher the reading above 40, the more significant the trend strength.
  • The slope of the ADX line - The direction of the slope can determine trend bias. Uptrends often coincide with an upward-sloping average directional index line. At the same time, downtrends typically align with a downward-sloping ADX line.

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The best average directional index strategy you can use

There are many trading system possibilities using the versatility of the average directional index indicator. Here are three trading strategy examples using the ADX:

ADX trend breakout strategy


What Is An Average Directional Index


The ADX trend breakout strategy is a simple yet powerful approach that takes advantage of strong momentum. It involves identifying chart patterns signalling a continuation such as flags or wedges when the ADX is above 40. 

Traders then wait for the minor pullback or retracement within the pattern to complete. As the price starts moving toward the prior trend, signifying a breakout, new buy or sell positions are entered depending on the trend direction.

Tight stops are placed just below recent swing points, and targets are set at a minimum of 2R reward, where R equals the amount risked. This 1:2 risk/reward ratio or higher aims to capture large profits from extended moves.

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ADX pullback filter

The pullback filter method combines ADX readings with clearly defined support and resistance levels. These key areas are marked by horizontal lines where prior peaks and troughs align.

As the price corrects back to retest support in uptrends or resistance in downtrends, the average directional index measurement is the filter for taking new bounce entries. The pullback trade trigger is taken when ADX is above 40, signalling strong momentum. Below 20 is ignored.

This strategy combines ADX’s strength at gauging trends with classic technical analysis principles to time low-risk entries in high-probability zones. Stop losses are kept small below the adjacent swing points.

Combine ADX with other indicators

Since the average directional index focuses specifically on trend strength, it can be powerfully combined with complementary indicators. Oscillators like the relative strength index (RSI) or moving averages give clear directional bias signals.


What Is An Average Directional Index


Traders can wait for twin confirmation from the ADX crossing 40 for trend strength and the MA lines crossing for trend direction, for example. This multiple-condition filter leads to high-probability setups in the direction of strong momentum.

Alternatively, ADX can define periods where other indicators may underperform due to choppy conditions when below 20. This way, ineffective signals are avoided entirely.


ADX indicator strengths and weaknesses

The average directional index indicator has several essential benefits and a few drawbacks traders should consider. Understanding both the strengths and weaknesses makes for better-informed trading decisions.

Quantifies trend strength - The standout advantage of ADX is its ability to quantify trend strength and momentum accurately rather than just direction. The scaled 0-100 reading objectively measures exactly how strong any emerging or existing trend is. This helps assess if trends have enough momentum to trade.

Confirms new trends early - As a trend gains traction out of ranges, the average directional index line crossing up through the 20 level marks this transition in its early stages. This timely signal involves traders developing trends early on to maximize profit potential. The crossing over 40 further confirms the trend has serious momentum behind it.

While the average directional index indicator has many benefits, it also has common weaknesses:

Lagging indicator - The ADX is based on averaging and smoothing techniques in its calculation, which can create lag. There is often some delay in signals versus raw price action, meaning it may sometimes indicate trend shifts late after they have begun.

No direction given - While exceptionally good at assessing momentum levels, the ADX only shows strength or weakness by its number value. It does not reveal whether the price trend bias is up or down. For this reason, price or separate directional indicators should be incorporated.

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As a final thought,

The ADX and its associated directional movement indicators are invaluable toolsets for technically oriented traders of all skill levels and market preferences. After studying the internal calculations and interpretation guidelines here, you now have the working knowledge to apply the average directional index strategically based on your trading style and risk parameters.

While no indicator provides perfect signals, the quantified trend strength data from the highly customizable ADX opens up many possibilities for building rule-based trading frameworks. From trend identification to trade management strategies, the versatile average directional index solves multiple challenges. We encourage further exploring trading resources as you move forward in discovering applications for the average directional index that align with your unique goals. Integrating ADX into decision processes consistently can significantly improve trading outcomes over the long run.


Consider using the Average Directional Index (ADX) when trading at

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When considering "CFDs" for trading and price predictions, remember that trading CFDs involves a significant degree of risk and could result in capital loss. Past performance is not indicative of any future results. This information is provided for informative purposes only and should not be considered investment advice."

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