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Trading 101: 4 Reliable Chart Patterns in Crypto Trading

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In our previous piece on chart patterns, we pointed out that the way to use patterns is to judge probabilities that a certain move will happen rather than to view them as some holy grail in the market (which unfortunately doesn’t exist to my knowledge).

Although they aren’t holy grails, chart patterns are some of the best tools we can use to trade the markets with a surprising degree of accuracy. For example, some estimate that a well-known pattern like the head & shoulders have an accuracy of more than 80% when it is complete. Very few indicators can match that!

In this article, we’ll go over the 4 best chart patterns to use in crypto trading, teach you how to spot them in the charts, and show you how to trade them.

1. Head & shoulders pattern

Since I already singled out the head & shoulders as the most accurate pattern, let’s start with this classic chart pattern that most people have heard about and probably have an idea what should look like.

head and shoulders

The head & shoulders pattern generally signals a reversal in the market, as it is essentially a failed attempt of a trend to move higher. As we know, an uptrend is defined as a series of higher highs and higher lows, but in the case of the head & shoulder, the last trend wave fails at making a higher high and higher low, and a new downtrend is initiated. The opposite pattern, known as an inverse head & shoulder, signals a shift from a downtrend to an uptrend.

Since the head & shoulder is so well-known by now, and the logic is based on simple trend trading, it is often considered to be the most reliable pattern in trading. It can often be easier to spot on a line chart as it can help you filter out all the clutter otherwise found on candlestick charts.

2. Bull flag

This is a continuation pattern and is also considered one of the most reliable bullish patterns we have. Sometimes also called a pennant or a wedge, these names all essentially refer to the same thing.

Bull flag

The bull flag is formed when price enters a consolidation phase following a strong uptrend. What really happens when price is consolidating is that the market is gathering momentum for the next burst up. It is a natural part of a trend where those who have been with the trend from the beginning are taking the opportunity to realize some of their profits, while new traders are entering the market and positioning themselves for the next run-up in prices.

3. Cup and handle

First introduced in William O’Neil’s book How to Make Money in Stocks, the cup and handle pattern is a bullish chart pattern that is very well-known in the stock market, but also appears to work well in other markets.

According to O’Neil, the pattern should span a period of 1 to 6 months in the stock market. In crypto, where everything moves faster, this period can safely be cut in half. For the pattern to be more reliable, we would ideally want to see a significant rise in trading volume near the end of the handle as price begins to rise. A buy order should be entered as price breaks above the high made by the right side of the cup.

The logic behind the pattern is the same as for the head & shoulder and trend waves: the cup represents the bottom in the market and the handle creates a higher low, which by definition means that an uptrend has started.

4. Rectangle

The rectangle is a similar pattern to the bull flag and trading channels, where price appears to be “stuck” between two imaginary lines on the chart. The more touches we have between these outer lines and the price, the more reliable the pattern is considered to be.

The rectangle is a trend continuation pattern, and often becomes a waiting game for traders since it is difficult to tell exactly when the price will break out of the pattern. However, the pattern is fairly reliable at predicting the direction price will break out in. The rectangle can be either bullish or bearish, depending on the direction of the preceding trend.

The pattern can be traded either by placing an order when price is close to the lower end of the rectangle with a stop just below the lower line and then waiting for price to break out. Alternatively, you can place a buy order just above the upper end of the rectangle in hopes of catching the trade as the price breaks out. The danger with the last option is that fake-outs where price spikes up just to fall back down do occur quite frequently. As always in trading, taking a slightly more conservative approach may serve you well over the long-term.

Featured image from Pixabay.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 37 rated postsFredrik Vold is an entrepreneur, financial writer, and technical analysis enthusiast. He has been working and traveling in Asia for several years, and is currently based out of Beijing, China. He closely follows stocks, forex and cryptocurrencies, and is always looking for the next great alternative investment opportunity.




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Trading 101

Lessons from The Turtle Traders

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turtle traders

For those of you who haven’t heard about the so-called turtle traders before, I’ll give you a brief recap here: “The turtles” were a group of laymen traders who were chosen more or less randomly to be coached by two of the pioneers in trend-following trading; Richard Dennis and William Eckhardt.

While Dennis, who had already made more than $100 million in the markets, were convinced that anyone could learn to trade, Eckhardt argued that Dennis was a gifted trader and that it would be extremely difficult for someone else to replicate his success. Unable to come to an agreement, the two men figured that the only way to settle the dispute would be to conduct an experiment where they would teach ordinary people their own trading system, and then measure the results.

As the story goes, the turtles became hugely successful, and Dennis was proven right.

Their story became known to world mainly through Michael Covel’s books Trend Following and The Complete Turtle Trader, where he shared some previously unknown details about the very simple trading strategies and methods used by “the turtles.”

Although the turtle experiment took place back in the early 1980s, the lessons learned from the experiment are as valid in today’s crypto market as they were in the commodities market Eckhardt and Dennis were trading in back then. In this post, I therefore wanted to share some of methods used by the turtles that can hopefully help you improve your own trading performance as well.

If you are interested in learning more about the methods the turtles used, I recommend reading Covel’s book to get the full story.

ATR as stop-loss

Using the Average True Range (ATR) indicator as a trailing stop-loss is something I learned from Covel’s book about trend following and that I’ve used successfully over the years, as I wrote about in another post about a trend following trading strategy.

Generally, the idea of using trailing stops in trading is that it allows you to ride the trend for longer, without taking on unnecessary risk. It is also in the very essence of trend following trading that traders should not try to predict where a trend will start or stop, but instead simply react to what the price is telling them. In this context, if the price breaks through the ATR line you have drawn up on the chart, it is telling you that the trend has ended and it is time to get out of the trade.

The ATR is calculated based on the volatility of the asset, which means that perfectly normal market movements will be classified as noise, and only extraordinary movements to either side will lead to price breaking through the ATR line.

TradingView has a very useful built-in indicator for using the ATR as a trailing stop called “ATR Stops.”

Maximum 2% risk on each trade

Since the turtles used the ATR as their stop-loss, the risk in terms of pips on each trade would naturally vary depending on the asset they traded. However, by adjusting their position size, they still managed to keep their risk at no more than 2% of their trading account on any one trade.

Pyramiding

Pyramiding is the concept of adding to a winning trade as time passes. This is pretty much the opposite of conventional value-based investing wisdom, where it is usually preached to buy low and sell high. The turtle traders, on the other hand, were not afraid to buy high and sell when things were moving against them (buy high, sell low).

The turtle traders usually didn’t move in with the full position size that their risk management allowed on the first order, but would instead spread out their orders and buy more as the trade moved in their favor. For example, they would enter an order with a position size that kept their risk at 0.5% of their capital as a trend started to form, and then enter new orders as the trend continued until they reached the 2% risk that their system allowed for.

This protected their downside if the trade moved against them from the start while at the same time enabled them to ride the trends until the end.

Reduce risk during losing streaks

The turtles were very aware of the emotional drawdown that follows a loss in the market, and they understood that because of this, losses tend to follow each other and create losing streaks from which traders sometimes never recover.

Because of this, Dennis and Eckhardt introduced a rule saying that if an account is down by 10%, the trader must adjust his risk as if he has lost 20%. With a smaller trading account left, the trader would then be forced to reduce his risk on each trade in order to stay within the maximum 2% risk allowed on each trade.

Not only did this save the turtle traders’ trading capital, but it saved their emotional capital as well.

Keep it simple

Lastly, it is important to remember that the exact trading system the turtles used was relatively simple and straightforward. Trend following trading is often like this, and it has been proven over and over again that simple and robust systems beats complicated strategies. As Richard Dennis was quoted as saying in the Market Wizards book:

“I always say that you could publish my trading rules in the newspaper and no one will follow them. The key is consistency and discipline. Almost anybody can make up a list of rules that are 80% as good as what we taught our people. What they couldn’t do is give them the confidence to stick with those rules even when things are going bad.”

Featured image from Pixabay.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 37 rated postsFredrik Vold is an entrepreneur, financial writer, and technical analysis enthusiast. He has been working and traveling in Asia for several years, and is currently based out of Beijing, China. He closely follows stocks, forex and cryptocurrencies, and is always looking for the next great alternative investment opportunity.




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Trading 101

Trading 101: Determining and Trading Trend Strength

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Trend-following trading remains the most popular approach to trading in the retail segment, both in crypto and other markets. However, before taking positions in the direction of a trend, it is crucial to determine if the trend is gaining or losing strength. As trend traders, we need to make sure we are only taking trades in trends that are building up, and not those that are fading.

While we have covered the basics of trend-following trading in the past, and also revealed several trend-following strategies, we will here focus on how you can determine if a trend is worth trading, using both systematic and discretionary tools.

Trend waves and pullbacks

Studying trend waves and pullbacks during a trend forms the basis of a discretionary approach to determining trend strength.

In a trending market, small pullbacks signal strength in the trend. If each pullback is getting increasingly smaller as the trend continues, we can say that the trend is picking up momentum. Another thing we often see in strong bullish trends in that the pullback is not really a pullback, but rather a sideways consolidation of the price. This indicates that bulls are strongly in control of the market, buying up even the smallest dip in prices.

On the other hand, as pullbacks get larger and occur more frequently, we can take it as a sign that the trend is losing momentum and the price may reverse into the opposite direction soon.

Moving Averages

Moving Averages are probably some of the best-known tools for trend traders, and for good reason. They are incredibly simple to use, and can provide powerful signals in almost all markets.

The most common way to determine trend strength with Moving Averages is to apply two Moving Average lines to the chart; one slower and one faster. For example, combining the 20 and 50 period Moving Averages is a common strategy among swing traders in both forex, stocks, and crypto (the lower the period setting of the Moving Average is, the faster it reacts to changes in the price).

In a strong uptrend, we should have the faster moving average staying consistently above the slower Moving Average. If the distance between the two moving average lines grows, it means that the trend is gaining momentum, and if the distance between them shrinks, the trend is losing momentum.

If the two lines cross over each other, this is often taken as a sign that the trend is about to reverse. Many successful trend-following strategies follow the simple logic of buying an asset when the faster Moving Average crosses over the slower one, and selling an asset when the slower Moving Average crosses over the faster one.

Price rejection

What we call rejection of higher or lower prices in technical analysis is most easily spotted using traditional candlestick charts and looking for long wicks sticking out either above or below the “body” of the candles, as in the screenshot below.

Price rejection

In this chart, we can clearly see that we had a strong bullish trend and that the price attempted to extent the trend further, but repeatedly got rejected by the market. After four attempts at going higher, this market lost all bullishness and went into an extended downtrend.

Relative Strength Index (RSI)

As the name implies, RSI is an indicator that measures strength. In just the same way as we define an uptrend in price as a series of higher lows and higher highs, the RSI line should also make higher lows and higher highs when the market is trending up. In non-trending (range-bound) markets, the RSI generally moves sideways and stays between readings of 30 and 70.

As trends come to an end, we sometimes see divergences between the trend of the RSI and the price itself. For example, price may be making a new higher high, while the RSI line fails at making a new high, or even makes a new lower high, as we have two examples of in the screenshot below:

RSI divergence

Average Directional Index (ADX)

This is the classic trend indicator that many traders still use. The indicator consists of a red line and a green line and it basically says that a green line above a red line means we are in an uptrend. In the opposite case, a red line above a green line would mean that we are in a downtrend. If the two lines are close together it means that the market is not clearly trending, but rather stuck in a range.

Trend-following strategies sometimes make use of the ADX indicator in combination with Moving Averages to find strong price trends to ride. The ADX could then help determine the strength of the trend while for example cross-overs of two Moving Averages could serve as entry and exit points.

Which one should you use?

Perhaps unfortunately, which specific indicator to use in your trend-following trading really comes down to personal preferences. There is no right or wrong indicator to use, nor is there any right or wrong way to combine indicators and create your own trading strategy.

That said, most traders try to avoid combining indicators that are measuring the same thing. For example, ADX, Moving Averages and MACD are all considered trend indicators, while RSI and Stochastic are considered momentum indicators. In other words, you could combine Moving Averages and RSI, but should avoid combining Moving Averages and ADX with each other.

Experimentation is also fine, but instead of trying to learn how to use lots of different indicators, a better strategy is generally to use a few and become an expert at them. They are all powerful in their own way, it just comes down to the trader to master them.

Featured image from Pixabay.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.3 stars on average, based on 37 rated postsFredrik Vold is an entrepreneur, financial writer, and technical analysis enthusiast. He has been working and traveling in Asia for several years, and is currently based out of Beijing, China. He closely follows stocks, forex and cryptocurrencies, and is always looking for the next great alternative investment opportunity.




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Trading 101

Trading 101 and Beyond: The Head and Shoulders Pattern and Why You Should Never Ignore it

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The “Head and Shoulders” pattern (H&S henceforth) is perhaps one of the most widely used and misused technical patterns out there. Figure 1 depicts an example of a H&S pattern (tops – white ellipses; neckline – bright blue trendline).

Figure 1. REGN Daily Chart

It is without a doubt the pattern’s name that makes people smirk when they hear market commentators referring to it. After all, why would anyone invest/trade their hard-earned money using a pattern that has the same name as the most popular anti-dandruff shampoo? I am personally never thrilled to discuss the pattern. Imagine advising a portfolio manager, who relies entirely on fundamental analysis, that they should immediately sell one of their favourite names because the stock has broken its “neckline”… Patterns such as the double/triple top seem to be never questioned, whereas the H&S pattern gets ridiculed left, right and center, even though their implications are not that much different.

The former takes into consideration that the same level has served as resistance on more than one occasion (i.e. market participants realize that a security is too “expensive” at a certain price and a horizontal resistance is formed). Double/triple tops have an implied target of the distance between the “resistance” level (marked by the double or triple top) and the interim low (the lowest level within the pattern) projected down from the interim low (see Figure 2; double top – violet horizontal trendline; interim low – bright blue horizontal trendline; target – yellow vertical line).

Figure 2. MRK Daily Chart.

Hypothetically, if the stock had bounced up one more time before moving lower, a H&S would have been observed (tops – white ellipses; neckline – bright blue trendline; target – yellow vertical line in Figure 3). The only difference between the two is the slight change in the implied target, which is simply dictated by the slope of the neckline. That is, had the neckline been flat, the target from the H&S would have been identical to the one obtained from the double top.

Figure 3. MRK Hypothetical Daily Chart

While double/triple tops seem to be understood by most market participants, the H&S pattern is often disregarded. In the next section, I discuss why, on the contrary, the pattern should never be ignored.

The H&S Pattern

A textbook H&S pattern occurs in an uptrend and has three peaks, with the middle one being the highest. The neckline connects the two interim lows (i.e. the lows on each side of the “head”) and is used as the trigger to sell. Similarly, an inverse H&S transpires in a downtrend and has three troughs, with the middle one being the lowest. The neckline connects the interim highs and is used as the trigger to initiate long positions. So what makes this pattern so important? Two things.

Note, at a first glance the two don’t have much to do with the pattern so just bear with me.

  1. Prices tend to trend, and the trend should be considered active until there have been definite signals that a reversal has occurred. Yes, this is one of the six tenets of Dow Theory. A quick glance at S&P 500’s monthly chart reveals that the tenet could very well hold true (Figure 4). With the exception of 2016, the index always appeared to trend for extended periods. That is, the index was either posting higher highs and higher lows (uptrend) or lower highs and lower lows (downtrend) until eventually reversing. So how is this related to the H&S pattern? Let’s recall that a H&S pattern occurs in an uptrend and, by definition, includes one lower high – the right “shoulder”. So unless the neckline has a very steep slope, a break below it, in most cases, would lead to a lower low. A lower high (the right “shoulder”) and a lower low (the subsequent move below the neckline) implies a downtrend. But as the chart depicts, there were a total of only three periods where the index posted lower highs and lower lows (i.e. the dot-com bust, the “Great Recession”, and the sideways move in 2016). Therefore, the H&S pattern should not occur frequently on charts of “trending” securities, similar to that of S&P 500. Of course, unless prices are indeed reversing. We will return to this chart shortly to examine the pattern’s track record.

Figure 4. S&P 500 Monthly Chart

  1. Stock prices are significantly more volatile than their underlying drivers. This proposition has been a topic of discussion for many years, with Robert Schiller pointing out to this phenomenon in his papers “Do Stock Prices Move Too Much to be Justified by Subsequent Changes in Dividends” in 1980 and “The Volatility of Stock Market Prices” 7 years later. He concludes that stock prices deviate significantly more than the expected changes in real dividends. For more details on the subject, you can refer to Shiller’s texts. Market volatility, particularly since the “Great Recession”, is indicative of markets exhibiting bouts of extreme volatility, which cannot be explained by fundamental drivers. The “Flash Crashes” of 2010 and 2015, and the several late-day selloffs during the February and mid-March corrections in 2018 are only some of the examples of such volatility. In the context of H&S patterns, as market volatility exacerbates each move during a trend, a change in trend (i.e. a completed H&S pattern) should be followed by a swift move in the direction of the new trend.

All in all, the combined implication from the above two points is that market participants can profit tremendously by initiating positions at the onset of a new trend (i.e. when a trend reversal occurs) because 1) markets will move in the direction of the new trend for a prolonged period (as markets tend to trend), and 2) each move during the new trend will be of large magnitude (as markets are significantly more volatile than their underlying drivers).

Going back to the monthly S&P 500’s chart, it is evident that nearly all major trends had terminated with a H&S pattern (tops and bottoms – white ellipses; necklines – bright blue trendlines in Figure 5).

Figure 5. S&P 500 Monthly Chart

Of course, the pattern has also given false signals. Zooming in (Figure 6 –S&P 500 weekly chart), two such occasions catch the eye – the 2016 consolidation (already visible on the monthly chart, Figure 5) and earlier in 2010. On both occasions, the index broke below the neckline of a H&S pattern (neckline – yellow trendlines, break below necklines – yellow arrows) but did not subsequently trend in the opposite direction (i.e. a trend reversal did not lead to a prolonged movement in the opposite direction).

Figure 6. S&P 500 Weekly Chart

However, had one gone short upon both signals, they would have had an opportunity to reverse and go back long shortly after. Not surprisingly, it was inverse H&S patterns that gave clues that the topping patterns in Figure 6 are giving false signals (lows – bright blue ellipses; necklines – bright blue trendlines in Figure 7).

Figure 7. S&P 500 Weekly Chart (same period as in Figure 6 – 2009 to May 22, 2018)

Overall, using the pattern would have led to catching practically all major tops and bottoms over the last 20 years, and being whipsawed on two occasions. Not a bad track record given how quickly one could have been able to close and reverse in both 2010 and 2016.

Formation of the Pattern

So how exactly does a H&S pattern form? Imagine a prolonged uptrend where each subsequent rally takes prices to a new high and each subsequent pullback terminates at a higher level. As prices tend to trend (point #1 above), prices are expected to move way past fundamental values before they reverse. Market volatility (point #2) only exacerbates the extent of each move. It is only after prices have reached extreme levels, in relation to their true drivers, that they are unable to make a new high (yellow trendline in Figure 8).

Figure 8. Hypothetical Uptrend with One Lower High 

This is not a reversal as of yet. A reversal of a trend requires not only a lower high but also a lower low. For example, if the subsequent low terminates at a higher level, followed by a new high, the uptrend will be considered intact (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Hypothetical Uptrend Continuation

However, had the subsequent down-move terminated at a lower level, the security would be considered in a downtrend (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Hypothetical Uptrend Reversal

As seen in Figure 5, in most cases, once markets eventually reverse, they start trending in the opposite direction. That is, markets trend higher to reach extreme “expensive” readings before they reverse and trend downwards until they become extremely “cheap”.

Unfortunately, most of the technical analysis literature on the subject describes the pattern with a very stringent set of rules. Those rules, while aiming to make interpretation of the pattern objective, may lead to untimely entry & exit, and ultimately to unprofitable trading.

Traditional & Alternative Interpretations of the H&S Pattern

Traditional Interpretation #1: The H&S pattern is a reversal pattern (i.e. H&S can only point to falling prices and inverse H&S – to rising prices). This is perhaps one of the two greatest myths about the pattern. Most traditional texts discuss the action of prices breaking through the “head” of the pattern as simply one of the three ways to negate the pattern’s original reversal signal (the other two being -1) breaking back above the neckline, and 2) breaking above the right shoulder). This completely ignores the fact that a “failed” H&S pattern may often give a continuation signal that is more potent than a reversal signal generated by a “completed” H&S pattern. Given that markets trend for extended periods, there are various examples of “failed” H&S patterns pointing to a continuation of the ongoing trend before the eventual reversal takes place. Let’s look at a few examples. First, Figure 11 depicts Aphria’s (APH.TO) price action since mid- 2016. The stock formed a “tentative” H&S pattern from November 2016 to August 2017 (tops – white ellipses, neckline – green trendline). APH never broke below the neckline, and instead broke through the head in late 2017, giving one of its most potent buy signals, with the stock tripling over the next few months.

Figure 11. APH.TO Daily Chart

More recently, a client of mine requested a technical overview of New Flyer Industries (NFI.TO). Over the last 3 years, the stock had formed several tentative H&S patterns (tops – white ellipses; necklines – green trendlines in Figure 12). Similar to Aphria, the necklines were never broken, and the subsequent breaks above the “heads” of the pattern resulted in major buy signals.

Figure 12. NFI.TO 2-Day Chart

Going back to the S&P 500’s weekly chart, the index formed a tentative H&S pattern in 2012 (tops – white ellipses, neckline – green trendline in Figure 13), but instead of breaking the neckline, it broke the head and continued its advance.

Figure 13. S&P 500 Weekly Chart

Credit for this alternative interpretation goes to Fregal Walsh, who had published a paper on the subject in the 2015 IFTA Annual Journal.

Traditional Interpretation #2:  The first counter move after the pattern is completed should terminate at the neckline. In other words, after the break of the neckline and the initial move in the opposite direction of the prior trend, prices are expected to reverse and halt at the neckline before reversing again in the direction of the breakout (first counter move after pattern completion terminates at the neckline – yellow trendline in Figure 14).

Figure 14. Traditional Theory for First Counter-move after a H&S Completion

While this certainly is the case for most broken trendlines (i.e. support turns into resistance and vice versa), this is yet another stringent guideline in the context of the H&S pattern , which can certainly lead to missed opportunities. On one hand, prices may never retrace back to the neckline, meaning one may never enter in the direction of the breakout if they were to wait for a retest. On the other hand, prices would often not only retrace back to the neckline, but would also move back above/below it before eventually reversing in the direction of the breakout. Using the same monthly chart of S&P 500, it is evident that out of the 5 major H&S patterns, on 4 occasions (patterns 1, 2, 3 & 4 in Figure 15), the index never retested the neckline after breaking it. Notice that this was the case irrespective of the direction or the slope of the neckline.

Figure 15. S&P 500 Monthly Chart

In the last inverse H&S pattern (#5), the index reached the neckline but before bouncing higher it broke below it (Figure 16).

Figure 16. S&P 500 2-day Chart

I am certainly not implying that subsequent retests of the neckline are insignificant. Often enough, if the specific technical backdrop of a security warrants it, I use the neckline as either a potential entry or a negation level. Rather, I am suggesting that if one is certain of a trend reversal, they should not religiously wait for a retest of the neckline. Also, sometimes, the neckline could be broken back (i.e. the security moves back within the pattern) but this not necessarily mean that one should close all positions. Figure 17 shows one of many such examples, where a stock (ATD.B.TO) moved back above the neckline of the H&S pattern (green trendline) for a week before plummeting over the next few months.

Figure 17. ATD.B.TO Daily Chart

Entry

Traditional technical analysis theory suggests that one should wait for the neckline to be broken before initiating a trade. To a large degree, entering upon a close below/above the neckline is a reasonable entry strategy. After all, as we saw in Figures 11, 12 & 13, the pattern could very well be consolidating before breaking the “head” of the pattern and continuing its prior trend. In that case, a premature entry in the expectation that the neckline will be broken will result in an unprofitable trade. Thus, on a systematic basis (and without considering any other technical developments), waiting for a close beyond the neckline is advised (H&S tops – white ellipses;  neckline – blue trendline; target – vertical blue line; entry – blue arrow in Figure 18).

Figure 18. WMT Daily Chart

Unfortunately, this entry often leads to trades with a very unfavourable risk-reward profile, as by the time the neckline is broken on a closing basis the stock may have already moved significantly away from the top of the pattern (i.e. from the negation level which determines the risk of the trade). One way to tackle this is to wait for a corrective move in the opposite direction of the breakout before initiating a trade. This scenario was already covered in the previous section, where it was shown that the first corrective move after the break of the neckline may terminate 1) prior to retesting the neckline, 2) at the neckline, or 3) beyond the neckline (yellow lines in Figure 19 indicating possible scenarios for the first counter-move after the neckline is broken; eventual move in the direction of the breakdown – red line).

Figure 19. Possible Scenarios for First Counter-move after a H&S Completion

Having done extensive work on “price gaps”, I had found that if a gap transpires during the formation of the head or the right shoulder, or upon breaking out of the pattern (i.e. breaking the neckline), a probable scenario is that price will pull back to pre-gap levels, giving a K-Divergence signal. See my primer on gaps for more details on how to trade the gap phenomenon and my “K-Divergence” paper in the 2018 IFTA Annual Journal for details on the specific H&S trading application.

Exit

Naturally, one exit strategy is to close positions once the pattern reaches its implied target (i.e. the distance from the head to the neckline projected from the neckline break – see Figures 3 & 18 for examples). It is noteworthy that the suggested target is considered to be a “minimum” projection from the point of pattern completion. Simply looking at S&P 500’s monthly chart, it is evident that the minimum target was exceeded on every occasion (target – purple vertical lines in Figure 20).

Figure 20. S&P 500 Monthly Chart

Not surprisingly, as index’s constituents are more volatile than the index itself, they form the pattern much more frequently. When it comes to individual stocks, the minimum target can be used to close at least half of the position. WMT’s chart (Figure 18 above) shows just that – an S&P 500 constituent completing a H&S pattern (and meeting its minimum downside target in May) without the index completing a topping pattern during the same period.

Conclusion 

Hopefully, the above discussion has at the very least made you just a little bit less skeptical about the infamous Head and Shoulders pattern. If you have any questions or if you would like to see a more thorough description/explanation for any of the sections in this article, feel free to do so in the comment section below.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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