What is Market Sentiment? Indicator Types and Trading Strategies

6 mins read
by Angel One
Market sentiment refers to the collective attitude of investors towards specific securities or the overall market. You need to study the prevailing market sentiment before investing or trading.

Whether you are a trader or an investor in the markets, you undoubtedly put in a lot of effort to analyse the stocks or securities you’re trading or investing in. You may rely on technical analysis for short-term positions and fundamental analysis for long-term holdings. However, there’s another crucial aspect that you need to account for — namely, market sentiment. 

Not sure what market sentiment is, why it’s important and how it can be assessed? In this article, you’ll find all these answers and more. 

What is Market Sentiment?

Market sentiment refers to the overall attitude of traders and investors towards the financial market or a specific asset, like a stock or commodity. It represents the collective emotions and perspectives of market participants and indicates whether they feel bullish (positive) or bearish (negative) about future market movements.

Market sentiment is influenced by various factors, including economic indicators, political events, company news and broader global events. This collective attitude can also influence market trends. So, understanding market sentiment is crucial because it helps you make informed decisions about buying, selling and holding assets.

Does Market Sentiment Affect Stock Prices?

Market sentiment plays a pivotal role in influencing stock prices. The fluctuations in the stock market are not solely based on corporate performances or economic indicators; they are also significantly swayed by the collective mood and perceptions of investors. 

This relationship between market sentiment and stock prices is best explained through two key financial theories, as outlined below. 

  • The Behavioral Finance Theory 

As per this theory, psychological factors and cognitive biases influence investor behaviour, thereby impacting stock prices. Investors are not always rational; their emotions and perceptions can lead to irrational decisions. For instance, widespread optimism can inflate stock prices beyond their fundamental values, while pessimism can lead to declining prices.

  • The Animal Spirits Theory

Introduced by economist John Maynard Keynes, this theory focuses on psychological and emotional factors in economic decisions. It suggests that human emotions like confidence or fear play a crucial role in investment choices. In stock markets, these emotions can lead to herd behaviour, speculative bubbles or crashes, affecting stock prices.

Common Indicators Used to Assess Market Sentiment

Now that you know what market sentiment is, you may be curious about how this sentiment is measured or assessed. Typically, traders use a variety of indicators to gauge the mood and trends of the market. These indicators help understand whether the overall market sentiment is bullish, bearish or neutral. 

Here are some common indicators used to assess market sentiment:

  • Put/Call Ratio

This indicator measures the number of put options traded relative to call options. A higher ratio often signals a bearish sentiment, while a lower ratio indicates bullish sentiment.

  • Volatility Index (VIX)

Often referred to as the ‘fear index,’ the VIX gauges market risk and investors’ sentiments about volatility. Higher VIX values typically indicate increased fear or uncertainty in the market.

  • Advance-Decline Line (ADL)

The ADL tracks the number of advancing stocks against declining stocks. An upward-trending ADL suggests a bullish market sentiment, while a downward trend can indicate a bearish sentiment.

  • High-Low Index

This indicator compares the number of stocks hitting their 52-week highs with those hitting their lows. A higher ratio suggests bullish sentiment and a lower ratio points to a bearish sentiment.

  • Bullish Percent Index (BPI)

The BPI shows the percentage of stocks with bullish patterns in a particular index. Higher percentages indicate more bullish sentiment.

  • Market Breadth

Market breadth indicators, like the McClellan Summation Index, assess the number of stocks advancing versus those declining. They help identify whether a market movement is broadly supported or not.

  • Investor Surveys and Polls

Surveys from investment firms and financial institutions can provide direct insight into investor sentiment.

  • Moving Averages

While primarily a technical analysis tool, moving averages can also indicate sentiment. For example, prices consistently remaining above a moving average may indicate positive market sentiment.

  • Trading Volume

Trading volume can also be a sentiment indicator. A high trading volume may point to strong interest and conviction in the market’s direction.

  • Social Media and News Sentiment Analysis

Increasingly, algorithms are used to gauge market sentiment by analysing tones and trends in financial news and social media.

Trading Strategies Using Market Sentiment Analysis

Market sentiment analysis can be effective, especially when combined with other trading strategies. Here are some ways in which you can leverage market or stock sentiment analysis in your trading plan.

  • Momentum Trading

You can use sentiment analysis to identify and ride momentum trends. For instance, positive sentiment can fuel upward price movements. By entering trades in the direction of strong sentiment, you can potentially capitalise on the upward momentum before it shifts.

  • Contrarian Investing

This strategy involves going against the prevailing market sentiment. When the majority of traders are bullish, a contrarian might see an overbought market and consider selling or shorting. Conversely, overwhelming bearish sentiment could indicate an oversold market and present a buying opportunity.

  • Sentiment Indicators with Technical Analysis

Combining market sentiment indicators with technical analysis can provide a more comprehensive trading strategy. For example, you could look for discrepancies between stock sentiment analysis data and technical indicators like moving averages or RSI (Relative Strength Index) for potential entry or exit signals.

  • Event-Driven Trading

Market sentiment often fluctuates significantly around major events such as the release of earnings reports, product launches or major regulatory changes. You can use market sentiment analysis to gauge market expectations and potential reactions to these events and then position your trades accordingly.

  • Hedging with Sentiment Analysis

In volatile markets, sentiment analysis can be used to create and implement hedging strategies. For instance, if the collective sentiment indicates increasing market uncertainty, you may opt to hedge your positions to mitigate potential losses.

  • Market Top and Bottom Identification

Extreme sentiment levels can sometimes indicate market tops or bottoms. While not always accurate, these signals can still be used in conjunction with other analyses to identify potential trend reversals.

The Limitations of Using Market Sentiment in Trading

Despite being a powerful indicator of potential market movements, market sentiment also has its limitations. Often, the collective attitude of investors and traders is driven by impulsive emotions like panic or greed. These sentiments do not factor in the actual fundamentals of the security involved or the market as a whole. 

Additionally, market or stock sentiment analysis also has other limitations like the following:

  • Subjectivity and Unpredictability

Market sentiment is inherently subjective and often influenced by traders’ emotions and personal biases. This subjectivity can lead to unpredictable market movements.

  • Susceptibility to Rapid Shifts

Investor sentiment can change swiftly in response to news, rumours or significant economic events. This volatility makes it challenging for traders to rely solely on sentiment.

  • Herd Mentality and Overreaction

Traders often follow the crowd, which can exacerbate market trends — both upward and downward. Relying on such sentiment increases the risk of being caught in market corrections or reversals.

  • Difficulty in Quantification

Measuring market sentiment is not straightforward. While there are tools and indicators available, they cannot capture the full spectrum of market emotions.

  • Risk of Misleading Signals

Extreme market sentiment, whether overly bullish or bearish, can sometimes signal market tops or bottoms. However, these signals are not always accurate and can lead to premature or misguided decisions.


To sum it up, market sentiment is one of the most powerful driving forces in the financial markets. Before you invest or trade in any stock or security, it’s crucial to check what the market sentiment is like. That said, you must also keep the limitations of market or stock sentiment analysis in mind. To overcome these downsides, ensure you rely on comprehensive technical or fundamental analysis as well — in addition to gauging the market sentiment. 

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How is market sentiment measured?

Market sentiment is often measured through various indicators like market surveys, the put/call ratio, the Volatility Index (VIX), moving averages and market breadth. Additionally, investor polls and sentiment indexes are also used.

Why is market sentiment important?

Market sentiment is important because it can influence stock prices and market trends. Highly positive sentiments can drive prices up, while negative sentiments can lead to sell-offs and price declines.

Can market sentiment predict market movements?

While market sentiment can provide valuable insights, it’s not always a reliable predictor of potential market movements. This is because stock prices can be unpredictable. So, stock sentiment analysis should be used in conjunction with other analysis tools.

Is market sentiment more relevant in short-term or long-term investing?

Market sentiment tends to have a more immediate impact on short-term market movements. However, long-term investment decisions are usually based more on fundamental analysis than on stock sentiment analysis.

How can traders use market sentiment in their strategies?

Traders can use sentiment indicators to gauge the overall mood in the market and make trading decisions accordingly. For instance, if stock sentiment analysis reveals extreme levels of contrarian bias, it might indicate potential market reversals.