14 August 2013

Importance of Big Figures in Forex Trading

Those who have followed me over the years know the importance I place on “big figures” (otherwise referred to as “round numbers”) in forex trading. There is a technical, fundamental and psychological component to big figures that make them significant. While this isn’t always quantifiable, pivotal big figures are often the ones that drive expectations and currency forecasts.

What is a big figure in forex trading? A big figure (or “round number”) is a forex rate that ends in 00, such as x.xx00 or xx.00. Examples are EUR/USD 1.3400, 1.3500, 1.3600, etc and USD/JPY 89.00, 90.00, 91.00, etc. Market convention is to drop the 00 and refer to big figures without them, such as EUR/USD 1.34, 1.35, 1.36 or USD/JPY 89, 90, 91.

Not all big figures should be treated the same. Some big figures have more significance than others in forex trading. I refer to these as pivotal big figures, which are ones that end in 2, 5, 8 and 0. For example, EUR/USD 1.32, 1.35, 1.38 and 1.40 are more significant than EUR/USD 1.31, 1.33, 1.34, 1.36, 1.37 and 1.39. The pivotal big figures ending in 0 and 5 are most significant. The way I look at it, if a pivotal big figure is broken, the risk is for the next round number as long as it trades below it. For example, if EUR/USD 1.40 is broken, next target would be 1.38. If that level is broken, I then divide the 1.35-1.38 range in half and use 1.3650 as the next target with the broader risk for 1.35. Note these are not support or resistance levels so I give leeway around pivotal big figures and look for whether they are established as support or resistance.

There are several reasons why pivotal big figures are important:

1) Psychological – There is a strong psychological component to pivotal big figures. This is hard to quantify but there is clearly an emotional impact. Think about your trading and how your sentiment changes when a big figure ending in 2, 5, 8 or 0 is firmly broken or holds. As an example in the current market, the EUR/USD failure at 1.38 (correction high was 1.3790) was followed by 1.35 coming under attack. This pivotal big figure was briefly broken (low of 1.3444) but so far not conclusively as EUR/USD has been unable to stay below it. A firm 1.35 break would raise a risk for 1.32 and 1.30 while a move back above 1.38 would put 1.40 in play again. In another example, a recent failure above USD/JPY 92 has seen the upside stall and 90 subsequently tested. Note, the use of pivotal big figures is just one tool and should be used in conjunction with other tools and indicators that make up your analysis.

2) Options Barriers – Options barriers are often placed at big figures and this often leads to talk of a defense of these levels. When a barrier is at a pivotal big figure it often has a bigger attraction as stops are also often placed at those levels. I am not sure why anyone would use a big figure as an options strike but this is often the case. A discussion of options and the impact on spot forex trading will be left to a future article. The point here is that options strikes are often set at big figures.

3) 10 Big Figure Ranges – Central bank and finance officials often talk in terms of 10 big figure ranges. This is especially true in USD/JPY and in the EUR/USD as well. These ranges usually start and end with a 0 or 5, such as USD/JPY 85-95, 90-100, 95-105. This may be a reason why pivotal big figures ending in 0 and 5 have taken on more significance over the years. In the years when central banks were more openly interventionist, the market assumed a defense of these ranges and often put this to a test. In the current market, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) openly defended EUR/CHF 1.50 (pivotal big figure) as the bottom of the range for many months. The SNB then abandoned a defense of this level and this saw EUR/CHF drop below it. The market is now focused on 1.45 (another pivotal big figure) as the next line of defense and the SNB appears to be currently defending 1.46 to prevent a run at 1.45.

4) Stops – Despite big figures being obvious targets for the market, there are still traders who place stops at or just above/below these levels. This is an invitation to getting stopped out of a position as these round numbers can be like waving a red flag at a charging bull. We refer to stops as JUBBS, which are stops at obvious levels. For a description of a JUBBS stop, visit the website and search under JUBBS. Sometimes the market feels compelled to test big figures, especially pivotal ones, to see if there are stops or bid/offers at these levels.

5) Congestion Around Pivotal Big Figures – Sometimes congestion around a pivotal big figure will take place as the market battles in a tug-of-war to establish on one side or the other. This often sees a narrowing range as the market trades on both sides of a pivotal big figure each day. Those on GVI Forex have seen me point out these patterns when a big figure, especially a pivotal one, prints each day. This offers a chance to trade on both sides as long as this pattern persists. However, the longer this pattern goes on, the more momentum is drained from the market and the greater the risk of a directional move once this pattern is broken.

To sum up, pivotal big figures can be a useful tool for forex trading. Pivotal big figures can be a good guide to the market bias and to potential targets. Central banks and financial officials often think in terms of round number ranges and this helps guide market expectations as well. The use of pivotal big figures can offer trading opportunities during periods of congestion and then signal directional moves when the pattern is broken. Whatever the case, it pays to be aware of pivotal big figures and the ways it can impact trading.

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