Developed by J. Welles Wilder, the Relative Strength Index (RSI) is a momentum oscillator that measures the speed and change of price movements. RSI oscillates between zero and 100. According to Wilder, RSI is considered overbought when above 70 and oversold when below 30. Signals can also be generated by looking for divergences, failure swings and centerline crossovers. RSI can also be used to identify the general trend.
RSI is an extremely popular momentum indicator that has been featured in a number of articles, interviews and books over the years. In particular, Constance Brown’s book, Technical Analysis for the Trading Professional, features the concept of bull market and bear market ranges for RSI. Andrew Cardwell, Brown’s RSI mentor, introduced positive and negative reversals for RSI and, additionally, turned the notion of divergence, literally and figuratively, on its head.
Wilder features RSI in his 1978 book, New Concepts in Technical Trading Systems. This book also includes the Parabolic SAR, Average True Range and the Directional Movement Concept (ADX). Despite being developed before the computer age, Wilder’s indicators have stood the test of time and remain extremely popular.
RSI is a versatile momentum oscillator that has stood the test of time. Despite changes in volatility and the markets over the years, RSI remains as relevant now as it was in Wilder’s days. While Wilder’s original interpretations are useful to understanding the indicator, the work of Brown and Cardwell takes RSI interpretation to a new level. Adjusting to this level takes some rethinking on the part of the traditionally schooled chartists. Wilder considers overbought conditions ripe for a reversal, but overbought can also be a sign of strength. Bearish divergences still produce some good sell signals, but chartists must be careful in strong trends when bearish divergences are actually normal. Even though the concept of positive and negative reversals may seem to undermine Wilder’s interpretation, the logic makes sense and Wilder would hardly dismiss the value of putting more emphasis on price action. Positive and negative reversals put price action of the underlying security first and the indicator second, which is the way it should be. Bearish and bullish divergences place the indicator first and price action second. By putting more emphasis on price action, the concept of positive and negative reversals challenges our thinking towards momentum oscillators.
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