Trend following strategies: Riding bullish and bearish trends

7 minutes

Ettore Pisani
21/09/2023 12:00 AM


    Trend following is a trading and investment strategy that involves identifying and capitalizing on the prevailing market trends. Whether you're bullish or bearish on a particular asset, trend following allows you to ride the momentum and potentially profit from price movements. In this article, we will delve into the world of trend following, exploring its intricacies, benefits, and strategies tailored for both bullish and bearish markets.

    Understanding trend following

    What is trend following?

    Trend following is a systematic approach to trading that involves analyzing historical price data to identify existing trends and making investment decisions based on the direction of those trends. The underlying principle is simple: when a financial asset is in an uptrend, traders and investors should look for opportunities to buy, while in a downtrend, they should seek opportunities to sell or short the asset.

    The psychology behind trend following

    Trend following is rooted in the idea that market participants tend to exhibit herd behavior. When an asset's price starts moving in a particular direction, more traders and investors hop on the bandwagon, causing the trend to gain momentum. This psychological aspect of trend following is essential to understand because it helps explain why trends persist and how traders can profit from them.

    Benefits of trend following

    Long-term profit potential

    One of the primary advantages of trend following is its potential for generating long-term profits. By aligning your positions with the prevailing trend, you can stay invested in profitable assets for extended periods, allowing your investments to grow steadily.

    Risk management

    Trend following also offers robust risk management capabilities. By adhering to predefined exit strategies, such as setting stop loss orders, traders can limit their losses and protect their capital. This risk management aspect is crucial, especially in volatile markets.

    Tools and indicators for trend following

    To effectively implement trend following strategies, traders rely on a range of tools and indicators. Here are some of the most commonly used ones:

    Moving averages

    Moving averages help smooth out price data, making it easier to identify trends. The two most common types are the simple moving average (SMA) and the exponential moving average (EMA).

    Relative Strength Index (RSI)

    The RSI is a momentum oscillator that measures the speed and change of price movements. It helps traders identify overbought and oversold conditions, which can be used to time entries and exits.

    Bollinger bands

    Bollinger Bands consist of a middle band (SMA) and two outer bands that are standard deviations away from the middle band. They help traders visualize volatility and potential price reversals.

    Trend following in bullish markets

    Bullish markets are characterized by rising asset prices, and trend following in such conditions aims to capture and ride the upward momentum. Here are some strategies for trend following in bullish markets:

    Buy and hold strategy

    The simplest approach is to buy a promising asset and hold onto it as long as the bullish trend continues. This strategy requires patience and a long-term perspective.

    Moving average crossover

    Moving average crossovers involve using two different moving averages and identifying buy signals when the shorter-term moving average crosses above the longer-term moving average.

    Breakout trading

    Breakout trading focuses on identifying key resistance levels and entering trades when the price breaks above these levels. This strategy aims to capitalize on strong bullish moves.

    Trend following in bearish markets

    Bearish markets are characterized by falling asset prices, and trend following in such conditions involves profiting from downward momentum. Here are some strategies for trend following in bearish markets:

    Short selling

    Short selling allows traders to profit from declining asset prices by selling borrowed shares and buying them back at a lower price. It's a way to profit from bearish trends.

    Inverse ETFs

    Inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are designed to move inversely to the underlying index or asset. They can be used to profit from bearish trends without short selling.

    Trend reversal indicators

    Bearish trend followers also use indicators to identify potential trend reversals, signaling when it's time to exit a short position or even consider going long.

    Combining trend following with fundamental analysis

    While trend following primarily relies on technical analysis, incorporating fundamental analysis can enhance decision-making. Fundamental analysis involves evaluating the financial health and prospects of a company or asset.

    Identifying quality stocks

    In bullish trends, focusing on fundamentally sound stocks can reduce the risk of investing in companies with shaky foundations.

    Timing entry and exit Points

    Fundamental analysis can help traders time their entry and exit points more accurately, ensuring they align with both the trend and the asset's intrinsic value.

    Risk management in trend following

    Effective risk management is crucial when trend following. Here are some key practices:

    Setting stop loss orders

    Placing stop loss orders helps limit potential losses in case a trade goes against the trend. This is a critical tool for protecting capital.

    Position sizing

    Determining the size of your positions relative to your overall portfolio size is essential to manage risk effectively.

    Common mistakes to avoid

    To succeed in trend following, it's vital to steer clear of common pitfalls. Here are some mistakes to avoid:


    Excessive trading can lead to increased transaction costs and losses. It's essential to stick to your strategy and avoid impulsive trades.

    Ignoring market fundamentals

    While technical analysis is central to trend following, ignoring market fundamentals completely can be detrimental. A balanced approach is often more effective.

    Lack of discipline

    Discipline is paramount in trend following. Deviating from your strategy or letting emotions guide your decisions can lead to losses.

    Real-life Examples of trend following

    Let's explore two real-life examples to illustrate the effectiveness of trend following strategies.

    Case study 1: Bull market success

    In the early 2000s, trend followers who recognized the technology boom and stayed invested in tech stocks reaped substantial rewards as prices soared.

    Case study 2: Bear market survival

    During the 2008 financial crisis, trend followers who identified the downward spiral of financial institutions and shorted bank stocks were able to protect their portfolios and even profit from the bearish trend.

    The importance of adaptability

    Markets are dynamic and subject to change. To remain successful in trend following, it's crucial to be adaptable and open to new strategies and indicators. Continuous learning is key to staying ahead.


    Trend following is a powerful strategy for navigating both bullish and bearish markets. By understanding the principles, utilizing the right tools, and practicing effective risk management, traders and investors can increase their chances of success in the ever-changing world of finance.


    Yes, trend following can be effective in volatile markets, as it focuses on capturing significant price movements. However, risk management becomes even more critical in such conditions.
    Trend following can be adapted to suit both short-term and long-term investment horizons. It offers the flexibility to align with your preferred time frame.
    Yes, numerous software tools and trading platforms offer features and indicators tailored to trend following strategies. It's essential to choose one that suits your needs.
    Exit strategies vary depending on the specific trend following strategy you employ. Setting stop loss orders or using trend reversal indicators are common methods.
    Yes, many traders use automated trading systems and algorithms to implement trend following strategies efficiently. However, careful monitoring is still essential to adapt to changing market conditions.

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