What Is The ATR Indicator, How Can It Help You Trade?

The 'Average True Range' or ATR indicator is a technical indicator used to measure the price movement of an asset. Access more information here.

What Is The ATR Indicator, How Can It Help You Trade?


The 'Average True Range' (ATR) is an indicator developed by J. Welles Wilder Jr that measures market volatility. It is used for technical analysis and indicates an asset’s price movement on average during a given time frame. The time period for the ATR indicator is 14 days, but shorter periods can also be used.

This article will help you gain insights about the ATR indicator, its working, its calculation, practical examples of its use, its advantages, common applications like day trading and trailing stop-loss, mistakes to avoid, and its limitations.

What Is The Average True Range (ATR) Indicator And How Does It Work?

The ATR quantifies how much prices swing up and down in a market over a specific period. It's like a weather forecast for market volatility.

How it Works

The ATR indicator works by crunching numbers to find the average trading range over a given time period. It observes the "true range" for each trading day. The actual range is obtained by the maximum of three values: the current day's high minus the low, the absolute value of the present day's high minus the previous day's closing price, and the absolute value of the current day's low minus the last day's closing price. The ATR is calculated as the average of these actual range values.

The standard number to use with an ATR is 14, i.e. 14 days, but other strategies work. A lower number can also be used if a trader wants to place more emphasis on recent volatility levels, which would indicate a shorter time period. Long-term investors prefer using a more significant number for a broader measurement.

How Is ATR Calculated?/ ATR Formula

The formula for ATR can be broken down into a few steps as follows:

Calculate each day's true range (TR) using this formula:

  • TR = Max(Current High - Current Low, |Current High - Previous Close|, |Current Low - Previous Close|).

Select a specific time period, often 14 days, as the "n" for the ATR calculation.

Calculate the ATR by finding the simple moving average of the TR values over the chosen period: ATR = [(TR1 + TR2 + ... + TRn) / n].

Examples Of Using ATR In Trading

Assessing Volatility: Traders use ATR to gauge how volatile the market is. A higher ATR means more price swings, while a lower ATR suggests fewer swings.

Setting Safety Nets: ATR helps traders decide where to place stop-loss orders. For instance, if the ATR has a given value, a trader might set their stop-loss at twice that value below their entry price to account for potential ups and downs.

Right Sizing Positions: ATR can help adjust the size of positions based on market mood. In turbulent times, traders might scale down to manage risk effectively.

Advantages Of Using ATR Indicator

Some of the advantages of the ATR indicator are as follows:

  • Tailored Timeframes: The ATR indicator is flexible, allowing traders to adjust the calculation period according to their trading style and time horizon.
  • Risk Management: It's a valuable tool for setting prudent stop-loss levels, helping to minimise the risk of significant losses.
  • Versatility: The ATR suits various financial instruments, from stocks and forex to commodities and cryptocurrencies.

Using ATR For Day Trading

The Average True Range is one of the best indicators for intraday trading. Day traders rely on it as a volatility indicator to make quick decisions during the trading day. ATR allows them to assess the extent of price swings within a single day, helping them make accurate choices about when to enter or exit trades. Additionally, the ATR helps determine where to place stop-loss and take-profit orders, which is crucial for effective risk management.

Using ATR For Trailing Stop-Loss

Furthermore, ATR proves to be effective when it comes to implementing a flexible trailing stop-loss strategy. Instead of sticking to a fixed stop-loss level, traders can adjust it in real time based on the current ATR value. This dynamic approach is particularly beneficial in capturing more substantial profits during strong market trends. Essentially, ATR acts as a guide for day traders, ensuring they navigate the fast-paced intraday market with precision and confidence.

How Not To Use The ATR Indicator?

One should not consider ATR as the only decision-making indicator, even though it is an effective technical analysis tool. Here are some common mistakes one should steer clear of:

  • Neglecting Other Indicators: Relying solely on ATR could lead to missed opportunities or misguided decisions. It's best used along with other technical and fundamental analysis tools.
  • Ignoring Market Context: ATR values should always be viewed in reference to the market and asset being traded. What is considered high volatility in one market might be perfectly normal in another.

What Are The Limitations Of The ATR Indicator?

Despite its usefulness, the ATR indicator does have its limitations, some of which are discussed as follows:

  • Historical Data Dependency: ATR is based on past price data, so it may not accurately predict sudden and unexpected market events.
  • No Directional Information: ATR only measures volatility; it doesn't tell you the direction of price movement.
  • Variable Optimal Period: The choice of the ATR calculation period can vary from one market and timeframe to another, making it subjective.


The ATR indicator is a versatile tool that provides insights into market volatility, helps set appropriate stop-loss levels, and aids in making effective trading decisions. Combine it with other indicators for best results, and always consider the specific market conditions and assets you're trading. With this approach, you can better utilise ATR to make more informed decisions in ever-changing financial markets.