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Understanding the Best MACD Settings

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Written by Timothy Sykes
Reviewed by Friedrich Odermann Fact-checked by Ed Weinberg
Updated 5/7/2024 23 min read

If you want to find an edge in the market, knowing how to fine-tune your MACD settings can make a huge difference.

The Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) is a popular tool for a lot of traders. And when it comes to this industry, a trader is only as good as their tools.

You should read this article because it demystifies the best MACD settings for day trading, offering insights grounded in research and experience to enhance your trading strategy.

I’ll answer the following questions:

  • What are the best MACD settings for day trading?
  • How does MACD work in stock trading?
  • What common mistakes should traders avoid with MACD?
  • Can MACD settings improve trading profitability?
  • How do different MACD settings impact trade outcomes?
  • What is the role of MACD in a successful trading strategy?
  • How can traders interpret MACD signals effectively?
  • Are there any research-backed insights on using MACD in day trading?

Let’s get to the content!

Table of Contents

What Is MACD?

MACD, designed by Gerald Appel, is a trend-following momentum indicator that shows the relationship between two moving averages of a security’s price.

It consists of the MACD line, signal line, and histogram. Each provides valuable insights on trend direction, momentum, and volatility in the market.

The overall market influence is very important. For instance, using MACD lines in the hottest sectors makes for more effective trades.

My new video analyzes the hottest stocks and how to approach them …

The MACD is a powerful tool, but it’s not the only one in a trader’s arsenal. Different strategies require different tools.

For instance, when dealing with momentum, the Momentum Indicator can be a valuable asset.

It’s crucial to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each tool and how they can complement each other.

I know this sounds like a lot of information for new traders. Don’t worry, I’ve got a solution.

Every week there’s a team of professional traders that hold live stream study sessions. Some of these webinars happen while the market is open.

It’s one of the best ways to digest this information. Plus there are opportunities to ask individual questions. If you’re interested in trading …

Drop what you’re doing and check out my Trading Challenge today.

The journey is a little different for everyone, that’s why live mentorship is so helpful.

Basic MACD Settings

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Standard MACD settings involve three numbers: 12, 26, and 9.

The 12 represents the faster exponential moving average (EMA), the 26 denotes the slower EMA, and the 9 is the signal line – a 9-period EMA of the MACD line.

This setting works for many, but you might find that tweaking these numbers to suit your strategy can give you a trading advantage. It all depends on the patterns you’re using.

To identify optimal MACD settings, traders must experiment with different combinations of the exponential moving averages and signal line periods.

While the standard MACD settings are a good starting point, they might not be the best fit for every trading strategy. For instance, day traders might find that different settings are more effective. The Day Trading Indicators guide can provide more insights into this.

I also linked a video below of the three top indicators to find hot stocks …

I put a ton of resources on the internet for traders to use. And there are more every week.

Customizing MACD Settings

Customization of the MACD not only enhances sensitivity to price movements but also refines signal accuracy, aligning with individual trading styles and goals. Though I like keeping things simple, I’ve seen how tweaking MACD settings can impact trading outcomes by reflecting the dynamics of specific markets or securities.

Default MACD Settings:

  • Fast Line (12-day EMA): Reflects recent price movements, providing a responsive measure of momentum.
  • Slow Line (26-day EMA): Offers a smoother, longer-term perspective on price trends.
  • Signal Line (9-day EMA of the MACD line): Acts as a trigger for buy and sell signals, smoothing out the MACD to prevent false alarms.

Adjusting MACD for Different Market Conditions

Market volatility and trend strength are pivotal in deciding the efficacy of MACD settings. In high-volatility environments, a wider gap between the fast and slow EMAs can help filter out noise and false signals, whereas, in lower volatility settings, tighter settings can provide more timely entries and exits.

  • High Volatility Markets: Increase the span of the MACD’s EMAs to 14 (fast) and 30 (slow).
  • Low Volatility Markets: Decrease the EMAs to 10 (fast) and 22 (slow) to capture quicker changes in price momentum.

Optimizing MACD for Various Asset Classes

Different asset classes exhibit unique characteristics and volatilities which can necessitate specific MACD settings. For instance, highly liquid stocks might require different settings compared to forex pairs due to differences in market structures and trader behavior.

Asset ClassFast LineSlow LineSignal Line

Advanced MACD Settings

Exploring advanced MACD settings involves experimenting with different calculation methods beyond the traditional EMA-based approach. Here are a couple of popular tactics:

  • Weighted Moving Average (WMA): Provides a weighted average that places more importance on recent data.
  • Hull Moving Average (HMA): Reduces lag more than the EMA, offering quicker responses to price changes.

Experimenting with Unconventional MACD Settings

Unconventional settings can uncover new opportunities but also increase risk. A systematic approach ensures any modifications are beneficial. Here are some things you can try:

  • Test different settings using historical data.
  • Use a trading simulator to assess the impact of changes.
  • Gradually incorporate successful adjustments into live trading.

Quantitative Analysis to Determine Optimal Settings

Quantitative analysis plays a vital role in identifying the most effective MACD settings for specific trading strategies.

Employing quantitative analysis can help refine your MACD strategy. By backtesting various combinations of the fast line, slow line, and signal line settings against historical data, you can identify which configurations best predict future movements for specific stocks or markets. Explore our complete analysis and step-by-step approaches in our article on MACD Crossovers.

These are the main categories:

  • Historical Data Analysis: Evaluate how different settings would have performed in the past.
  • Backtesting: Systematically test settings against historical price movements to assess efficacy.
  • Forward Testing: Use the settings in real-time on a demo account to validate performance.

Considerations when Adjusting MACD Settings for Specific Market Conditions

Key considerations include market conditions, liquidity, and volatility. A checklist can guide these adjustments, ensuring they’re well-considered and substantiated by data.

  • Current Market Phase: Is the market trending or range-bound?
  • Asset Liquidity: More liquid assets might require finer adjustments.
  • Volatility Levels: High volatility might necessitate broader settings to filter out noise.

The term ‘outperform’ is a stock rating suggesting that a particular stock is expected to achieve returns superior to the market average or its sector index. This prediction can often align with bullish MACD signals, where the MACD line crosses above the signal line indicating potential entry points for investors. For insights into how ‘outperform’ ratings can guide your trading decisions, refer to our guide on What ‘Outperform’ Means in Stocks.

MACD Settings for Different Platforms

MACD indicators are integrated into virtually every charting platform, but the settings might need to be adjusted based on the platform you’re using.

Best MACD Indicator Settings for MT4 & MT5

The default MACD settings in MT4 & MT5 are typically 12, 26, 9, but these settings and the line representation can be adjusted based on your trading strategy and goals.

Evaluating the performance of different MACD settings is crucial, especially when switching between platforms like MT4 and MT5.

Remember, it’s important to backtest any changes to ensure they align with your trading style and the specific assets you’re trading.

MACD Settings to Use Outside MetaTrader

Outside MetaTrader, the same principles apply. While the default settings are a good starting point, you may want to adjust them based on the asset, timeframe, and your risk tolerance.

Always backtest and review your strategy before implementing changes to your live trading.

A great way to do that is by using a paper-trading account …

Some software offer a paper-trading service where traders can test their strategies in real-time with fake money.

I use StocksToTrade and it comes with all the tools a trader might need. That includes MACD settings and a live paper trading option.

Try the 14-day trial for $7.

A trader is only as good as their tools.

Choosing the Best MACD Settings for Various Timeframes

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Finding the perfect MACD settings for your chosen timeframe is like hitting the trading jackpot. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, but a tailor-made suit that fits you perfectly.

Let’s discuss the ideal MACD settings for various timeframes.

The Best MACD Settings for 2-Minute Chart

Short time frames like the 2-minute chart demand more sensitivity to capture quick price movements effectively.

  • Reduce the EMA periods: Fast Line at 6, Slow Line at 13, Signal Line at 5.
  • Rationale: Quicker settings help identify trends and reversals faster, critical in a fast-moving market.

The Best MACD Settings for 5-Minute Chart

Traders often compare various MACD settings to find the most effective combination for short-term charts like the 5-minute one.

For a 5-minute chart, scalpers might find reducing the standard settings provides more actionable signals.

For instance, a 6, 13, 4 setting might be a better fit, but always remember – the higher the frequency of trading signals, the higher the risk.

It’s also a good idea to use combinations of different settings. Similar to looking at chart patterns on different time frames, multiple MACD settings can help paint a better picture.

The Best MACD Settings for 15-Minute Chart

A 15-minute chart strikes a balance between frequency and accuracy of signals. Analyzing the effectiveness of MACD settings on a 15-minute chart can provide insights into market momentum and trend reversals.

For such a timeframe, consider a faster MACD setting like 8, 17, 9 to reflect the quick market changes.

The Best MACD Settings for 30-Minute Chart

A 30-minute chart is perfect for those who want a middle ground between long-term and scalping strategies. Determining the ideal parameters for MACD on a 30-minute chart involves balancing signal frequency and accuracy.

You might consider a 12, 26, 9 setting, as it provides a good balance between signal frequency and reliability.

The Best MACD Settings for 1-Hour Chart

For an hourly chart, stick with the default MACD settings of 12, 26, 9. Monitor the signals generated by different MACD settings when trading on a 1-hour chart to optimize your strategy.

It gives you a good view of the market momentum and trend within the day.

Best MACD Settings for 4-Hour Chart

If you’re trading on a 4-hour chart, consider tweaking the default settings. Backtesting MACD settings on a 4-hour chart can help in optimizing the configuration of MACD parameters for longer-term trades.

An 8, 24, 9 setting could potentially work better by reducing the number of whipsaws and improving the accuracy of your entries and exits.

Best MACD Settings for 1-Day Chart

For daily charts, many traders find the default MACD settings (12, 26, 9) to be very effective. This timeframe captures the broader market trends and helps filter out market noise.

Combine MACD with other indicators like RSI or Bollinger Bands when analyzing a 1-day chart for a more comprehensive market view.

Intraday Settings for MACD

For intraday settings, you might want to shorten the MACD settings to respond more quickly to market changes.

In that case, something like 5, 15, 9 could be an appropriate starting point, but remember to backtest before trading.

Interpret the output of MACD with different settings to enhance your intraday trading strategies.

MACD Crypto Settings

Utilize MACD for trend identification and confirmation, especially in the highly volatile cryptocurrency markets.

Try the 12, 26, 9 setting for a start, then adjust according to your own risk and return objectives.

Common Mistakes Traders Make With MACD Settings

Common errors include setting the MACD too sensitive or not adjusting it to reflect market or asset specifics. These are the top three:

Using Settings That are Too Sensitive

Overly sensitive settings lead to a higher rate of false positives.

By moderating the sensitivity of the MACD parameters, traders can reduce signal noise and improve the reliability of trend predictions. This adjustment is crucial, especially in volatile markets where data fluctuations are more pronounced. To learn more about how the MACD works, view our in-depth MACD overview.

Not Adjusting Settings According to the Market or Asset

Incorrect settings can result in missed opportunities or increased false signals. Tailoring these settings helps align the indicators with the unique characteristics of each trading environment, enhancing predictive accuracy and effectiveness.

Relying Solely on MACD for Trading Decisions

I’d advise that you use MACD in conjunction with other indicators for confirmation. Relative strength index (RSI), stochastic, and volume indicators can all shed light on elements of a stock’s movement that MACD doesn’t pick up.

Understanding Scalping Indicators

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Let’s dig deeper into scalping indicators.

These are tools that can help you make quick decisions about when to enter and exit a trade. Here, the MACD is one of the popular choices due to its efficacy in revealing market trends and momentum.

Make sure you assess the sensitivity of MACD settings when using them as part of scalping indicators.

However, it’s important to remember that these tools are just one part of a comprehensive trading strategy. Understanding the Average True Range can provide additional insights into market volatility, which is crucial for scalpers.

Always strive to broaden your knowledge and improve your strategies.

Success occurs at the intersection of knowledge and experience. Take time right now to learn and it will pay off in the future.

What Are Scalping Indicators?

Scalping indicators are tools used by traders to determine potential points to enter or exit trades in the market.

These are designed to help scalpers recognize and take advantage of small price movements.

Remember, scalping is a quick-paced, frequent trading strategy, and hence, the indicator you choose should be able to keep up with the speed.

You can identify bullish or bearish divergences with MACD to make quick decisions in scalping strategies.

Top 5 Best Indicators for Scalping

While MACD is a great indicator, there are others that scalpers often use.

  • RSI
  • Stochastic Oscillator
  • Bollinger Bands
  • Parabolic SAR
  • Moving Average

These all play a crucial role in scalping. And they can help you measure the strength of market momentum using MACD settings for more confirmation.

Each indicator provides a different insight – trend direction, momentum, volatility – and combining them can give a more comprehensive view of the market.

Can Scalping Indicators Be Used Together?

Absolutely. In fact, using multiple indicators can help validate signals and increase the chances of successful trades.

For instance, you could use RSI for identifying overbought or oversold conditions and MACD to confirm a potential price reversal.

If you don’t like RSI, choose another. There are a lot of indicators out there that help map the market. Just make sure you identify optimal histogram settings for MACD when using it alongside other scalping indicators.

What Is the Best Forex Scalping Indicator?

The best forex scalping indicator depends on your trading style, but MACD is a common choice due to its ability to identify the strength, direction, momentum, and duration of a trend.

Apply filters to refine MACD signals for forex scalping, ensuring more precise entry and exit points.

Key Takeaways

trade like a coward - sykes
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Alright, folks, we’ve covered a lot of ground here.

Remember, while MACD is a powerful tool in the trader’s toolkit, there’s no magic setting that guarantees profits.

The best MACD settings depend on your personal trading style, risk tolerance, and the specific market you’re trading in. You’ll want to evaluate the risk-reward ratio based on different MACD settings to ensure your trading strategy aligns with your risk tolerance.

Stay adaptable, stay disciplined, and don’t forget to keep your risk in check.

Trading isn’t rocket science. It’s a skill you build and work on like any other. Trading has changed my life, and I think this way of life should be open to more people…

I’ve built my Trading Challenge to pass on the things I had to learn for myself. It’s the kind of community that I wish I had when I was starting out.

We don’t accept everyone. If you’re up for the challenge — I want to hear from you.

Apply to the Trading Challenge here.

Trading is a battlefield. The more knowledge you have, the better prepared you’ll be.

What MACD settings do you use? Let me know in the comments — I love hearing from my readers!

Frequently Asked Questions

We’re not done yet! Let’s wrap up with some frequently asked questions about MACD settings and scalping.

Is Scalping Legal?

Yes, scalping is perfectly legal.

However, not all brokers permit this trading style due to the financial risks involved. So, ensure to check with your broker’s policy before you jump into scalping.

There’s an edge in identifying short-term trading opportunities using MACD in scalping, while adhering to legal and broker-specific guidelines.

Can Scalping Indicators Be Automated?


Many scalpers implement trading strategies based on MACD settings within automated scalping systems for efficiency.

However, remember that while automation can help manage trades, it cannot replace a robust, well-thought-out trading strategy.

And it’s always good to whip out a calculator to double check.

How Does Scalping Impact Market Volatility?

Scalping doesn’t typically cause market volatility — it’s more a reaction to it.

Scalpers thrive on volatility and big market events since it provides the price movements necessary for them to profit. If this is your strategy, you’ll want to adapt MACD settings to different timeframes and market conditions to effectively respond to market volatility.

Remember, though, with greater volatility comes greater risk.

What Are the Key Components in MACD Settings?

MACD, or Moving Average Convergence Divergence, is a widely-used technical analysis tool.

It’s primarily based on two exponential moving averages (EMAs), with one typically set for 12 periods and the other for 26. The crossover between these EMAs is a key trading signal.

The MACD line (often shown as a blue line) represents the difference between these two EMAs, while the signal line (often a red line) is usually a 9-period EMA of the MACD line.

When these lines intersect, it indicates a potential market trend reversal. Integrate the analysis across multiple timeframes using MACD to make informed trading decisions.

Finally, the histogram, or the trend filter, illustrates the distance between these two lines, helping traders identify bullish and bearish momentum.

How Do Market Factors Affect MACD Settings?

MACD settings can be significantly influenced by various market factors.

For example, the prices of stocks and commodities can affect the highs and lows of the EMAs, which are key components of the MACD.

Moreover, the direction of the market trend (whether it’s an uptrend or downtrend) plays a significant role in the interpretation of MACD settings.

Furthermore, MACD settings can be used to analyze price action, which involves studying the movements of market prices to predict future price trends.

What Are the Practical Aspects of MACD Settings?

MACD settings involve the practical application of data analysis.

This involves reading values from price charts and using mathematical formulas to calculate EMAs and MACD lines.

The approach you take to analyzing these values and making entry decisions is crucial to successful trading.

Filters can be applied to MACD readings to screen out potential false signals. For example, Excel can be used as a practical tool for plotting and calculating MACD values and crossovers.

How Can MACD Settings Be Used for Different Types of Trading?

MACD is a versatile indicator that can be used for various types of trading.

For day trading, MACD crossovers can provide quick entry and exit signals within a single trading day. In swing trading, the MACD can help identify the start and end of price swings.

For longer-term position trading, MACD settings can be adjusted to use larger period settings, such as weekly or monthly data, for better performance analysis.

What Information Is Helpful for Beginners Learning About MACD Settings?

Beginners can benefit from a step-by-step guide on how to use and interpret MACD settings.

Essential information about the theory and application of the MACD, risk management techniques related to MACD signals, and real-world examples of trades using MACD settings can be particularly helpful.

Setting criteria and rules for when to buy or sell based on MACD signals can provide a structured approach to trading.

Lastly, practicing MACD strategies using a demo trading account can be a good way to gain experience without risking actual money.

What Information Is Helpful for Beginners Learning About MACD Settings?

Market conditions can significantly influence the effectiveness of MACD settings.

In trending markets, MACD can effectively identify potential buy and sell signals through crossovers and divergences.

However, in sideways or choppy markets, MACD may produce many false signals. Therefore, it’s important to consider overall market conditions alongside the MACD indications.

Take a page straight from my trading textbook; if there’s nothing to trade, close the laptop and go fishing. Idle hands are a trader’s worst enemy.

How Do Losses and the MACD Indicator Interact?

Losses are an inevitable part of trading.

The MACD indicator helps minimize losses by providing signals for potential price reversals.

For example, a bearish divergence, where the stock price makes a new high but the MACD doesn’t, may indicate a potential price drop. It can serve as a signal to close long positions and avoid losses.

It’s crucial, however, to use MACD alongside other technical analysis tools and not rely solely on it.

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Timothy Sykes

Tim Sykes is a penny stock trader and teacher who became a self-made millionaire by the age of 22 by trading $12,415 of bar mitzvah money. After becoming disenchanted with the hedge fund world, he established the Tim Sykes Trading Challenge to teach aspiring traders how to follow his trading strategies. He’s been featured in a variety of media outlets including CNN, Larry King, Steve Harvey, Forbes, Men’s Journal, and more. He’s also an active philanthropist and environmental activist, a co-founder of Karmagawa, and has donated millions of dollars to charity. Read More

* Results are not typical and will vary from person to person. Making money trading stocks takes time, dedication, and hard work. There are inherent risks involved with investing in the stock market, including the loss of your investment. Past performance in the market is not indicative of future results. Any investment is at your own risk. See Terms of Service here

The available research on day trading suggests that most active traders lose money. Fees and overtrading are major contributors to these losses.

A 2000 study called “Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors” evaluated 66,465 U.S. households that held stocks from 1991 to 1996. The households that traded most averaged an 11.4% annual return during a period where the overall market gained 17.9%. These lower returns were attributed to overconfidence.

A 2014 paper (revised 2019) titled “Learning Fast or Slow?” analyzed the complete transaction history of the Taiwan Stock Exchange between 1992 and 2006. It looked at the ongoing performance of day traders in this sample, and found that 97% of day traders can expect to lose money from trading, and more than 90% of all day trading volume can be traced to investors who predictably lose money. Additionally, it tied the behavior of gamblers and drivers who get more speeding tickets to overtrading, and cited studies showing that legalized gambling has an inverse effect on trading volume.

A 2019 research study (revised 2020) called “Day Trading for a Living?” observed 19,646 Brazilian futures contract traders who started day trading from 2013 to 2015, and recorded two years of their trading activity. The study authors found that 97% of traders with more than 300 days actively trading lost money, and only 1.1% earned more than the Brazilian minimum wage ($16 USD per day). They hypothesized that the greater returns shown in previous studies did not differentiate between frequent day traders and those who traded rarely, and that more frequent trading activity decreases the chance of profitability.

These studies show the wide variance of the available data on day trading profitability. One thing that seems clear from the research is that most day traders lose money .

Millionaire Media 66 W Flagler St. Ste. 900 Miami, FL 33130 United States (888) 878-3621 This is for information purposes only as Millionaire Media LLC nor Timothy Sykes is registered as a securities broker-dealer or an investment adviser. No information herein is intended as securities brokerage, investment, tax, accounting or legal advice, as an offer or solicitation of an offer to sell or buy, or as an endorsement, recommendation or sponsorship of any company, security or fund. Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes cannot and does not assess, verify or guarantee the adequacy, accuracy or completeness of any information, the suitability or profitability of any particular investment, or the potential value of any investment or informational source. The reader bears responsibility for his/her own investment research and decisions, should seek the advice of a qualified securities professional before making any investment, and investigate and fully understand any and all risks before investing. Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes in no way warrants the solvency, financial condition, or investment advisability of any of the securities mentioned in communications or websites. In addition, Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes accepts no liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this information. This information is not intended to be used as the sole basis of any investment decision, nor should it be construed as advice designed to meet the investment needs of any particular investor. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future returns.

Citations for Disclaimer

Barber, Brad M. and Odean, Terrance, Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors. Available at SSRN: “Day Trading for a Living?”

Barber, Brad M. and Lee, Yi-Tsung and Liu, Yu-Jane and Odean, Terrance and Zhang, Ke, Learning Fast or Slow? (May 28, 2019). Forthcoming: Review of Asset Pricing Studies, Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=2535636”

Chague, Fernando and De-Losso, Rodrigo and Giovannetti, Bruno, Day Trading for a Living? (June 11, 2020). Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=3423101”