Bollinger Bands Explained: A Futures Trader's Guide

By NinjaTrader Team

In the world of futures trading, where every tick represents money made or lost, understanding the richness and nuances of certain key market indicators is vital. Among these, Bollinger Bands stand out as a lighthouse for traders navigating the turbulent financial markets.  

In this blog post, you’ll learn the value of the Bollinger Band indicator, its calculation, and its critical role in helping traders identify market sentiment, overbought and oversold conditions, and subtle and not so subtle changes in volatility.

What are Bollinger Bands and How Do I Read Them?  

The Bollinger Band is simple in its construction but firmly based on statistical mathematics. Created by John Bollinger in the 1980s, the indicator consists of three lines:  

  • The middle average banda simple moving average (SMA) of the closing prices (usually over 20 periods) 

  • One outer band that is plotted two standard deviations above the middle SMA  

  • One outer band that is plotted two standard deviations below the middle SMA  

These standard deviations adjust dynamically with the market's volatility, expanding during volatile periods and contracting during less volatile times, thus encapsulating price movements in an envelope. 

Using Bollinger Bands to Unlock Market Sentiment: Overbought and Oversold Conditions 

One of the most common and compelling uses of Bollinger Bands is the ability to indicate overbought or oversold market conditions. When the price touches or breaches the upper band, the market is considered overbought, suggesting a potential pullback as traders take profits. Conversely, when prices touch or fall below the lower band, the market is deemed oversold, potentially heralding a bounce back as traders perceive value and begin buying. This dual functionality can provide traders with long and short entry and exit signals. (Figure 1) 

Bollinger Bands overbought and oversoldFigure 1: Bollinger Bands overbought and oversold indications

Volatility's Telltale Signs: Understanding Expansion and Contraction

Bollinger Bands are based on the concept of standard deviation and offer keen insights into market volatility. The distance between the upper and lower bands visually represents volatility:  

  • Wider expanding bands suggest increased volatility 

  • Narrow contracting bands indicate decreased volatility  

The dynamic nature of the bands allows traders to better judge the market's variability and adjust your strategies accordingly. (Figure 2)

Bollinger Bands indicating volatilityFigure 2: Bollinger Bands indicating volatility contracting and expanding 

The Volatility Squeeze: Anticipating a Breakout 

A particularly consistent phenomenon associated with Bollinger Bands is the volatility squeeze. This occurs when the bands tighten noticeably, signaling a significant decrease in volatility. Consider this as the calm before the storm. As the squeeze plays out, there are often substantial price breakouts above or below the recent prices, as low volatility periods are usually followed by increased market activity. (Figure 3) 

Bollinger BandsFigure 3: Bollinger Bands indicating volatility squeeze and the breakout 

Trading Beyond the Bands: The Persistence of a Trend 

While Bollinger Bands serve as a guide to price behavior, markets can, and do, trend outside the bands for extended periods of time. A market trending persistently above the upper band signifies strong bullish momentum, suggesting that the trend may continue despite being in the overbought territory. Similarly, a market that remains below the lower band indicates strong bearish momentum. (Figure 4) 

Bollinger BandsFigure 4: Bollinger Bands indicating the market can trend along the upper and lower bands 

Add Bollinger Bands Strategies to Your Trader’s Toolkit  

Bollinger Bands can provide key insights into market volatility, sentiment, and potential price reversals and are an invaluable resource in a trader's toolkit. However, as with all indicators, it is also beneficial to use Bollinger Bands in conjunction with other analysis tools to formulate a more multi-faceted trading strategy that is right for you.  

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