BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- After a boring start to 2015, the tech sector is heating up this month.
Tech stocks were some of the hardest hit last Friday as the big indices sold off, and they were the best sector to own on Monday as the broad market rebounded back towards highs. While the tech sector hasn't moved much more than the rest of the S&P 500 index, it has been showing some significant signs of strength lately.
For instance, while almost half of all S&P components are down year-to-date, that number drops to just a third when you limit your look to the tech sector. In fact, there are currently more tech sector stocks in the S&P that are up more than 10% in 2015 than there are tech stocks that are down. Even better, tech stocks are stomping expectations this earnings season; 84% of tech stocks that have already reported first-quarter numbers have exceeded analysts' forecasts.
Put simply, tech stocks are working in this market -- and that's been a rare accomplishment in 2015. To take advantage of that strength, we're taking a closer technical look at the sector with five tech stocks to trade for gains this week.
For the unfamiliar, technical analysis is a way for investors to quantify qualitative factors, such as investor psychology, based on a stock's price action and trends. Once the domain of cloistered trading teams on Wall Street, technicals can help top traders make consistently profitable trades and can aid fundamental investors in better planning their stock execution.
Without further ado, let's take a look at five technical setups worth trading now.
Palo Alto Networks
This enterprise security stock has been in rally-mode all year long, climbing more than 25% since the calendar flipped to January. But don't worry if you missed that move. Palo Alto Networks looks ready to kick off on a second leg higher this spring thanks to a textbook technical setup. Here's how to trade it:
Palo Alto Networks is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish price setup that's formed by horizontal resistance above shares at $150 and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as PANW bounces in between those two technically-significant price levels, it's been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout above our $150 price ceiling. Shares are finally catching a bid above $150 this week, which is a big buy signal.
Relative Strength, down at the bottom of the chart, adds some extra evidence to the upside in PANW. That's because relative strength has been in an uptrend of its own for the better part of the last year, which indicates that PANW isn't just moving higher -- it's outperforming the rest of the market long-term. As long as that relative strength uptrend remains intact, PANW should keep beating the S&P.
The 50-day moving average has been a good proxy for support in PANW during this rally. That makes it a logical place to park a protective stop if you decide to buy here.
We're seeing the exact same setup in shares of mid-cap software company National Instruments(NATI) - Get Report. Like Palo Alto Networks, NATI is forming an ascending triangle pattern, in this case with a breakout level at $33 resistance. The NATI trade isn't as far along here -- we need to see $33 get taken out before it becomes a high-probability buy.
Why all of that significance at that $33 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, like this ascending triangle pattern in NATI, are a good quick way to identify what's going on in the price action, but they're not the actual reason a stock is tradable. Instead, the "why" comes down to basic supply and demand for NATI's shares.
The $33 resistance level is a price where there has been an excess of supply of shares; in other words, it's a spot where sellers have previously been more eager to step in and take gains than buyers have been to buy. That's what makes a breakout above $33 so significant -- the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level. It's important to be reactionary on this breakout trade; wait for shares to catch a bid above $33 before you buy NATI.
The good news is that you don't need to be an expert technical trader to figure out what's going on in shares of large-cap cloud software company ServiceNow(NOW) - Get Report. Instead, the price action in this big stock is about as simple as it gets. NOW has been a "buy-the-dips stock" going back to October, so now, as shares dip for a fourth time, it makes sense to be a buyer again.
ServiceNow has been in a well-defined uptrending channel since last fall, providing a very tradable setup for buyers to get in along the way. The uptrending channel in NOW is formed by a pair of parallel trend lines that identify the high-probability range for shares to stay stuck within. So far, every test of trend line support has been a low-risk, high-reward opportunity to be a buyer in this stock. And we're seeing another one here.
Risk management is critical when you're buying uptrending stocks like this one. NOW's most recent swing low at $72.50 is a logical place to park a protective stop on this trade. That's because if $72.50 gets violated, the uptrend is over and you don't want to own it anymore.
Yahoo!'s (YHOO) price action hasn't been quite so straightforward for the last year or so, but it's another uptrending stock that's giving traders a low-risk buying opportunity. While Yahoo! hasn't exactly been trading in a price channel, the trend line support level in YHOO has been holding strong since last summer, giving traders five chances to get in on bounces off of that level. Now, as shares touch that support line for a sixth time, it makes sense to buy the next bounce higher in Yahoo!.
Waiting for that bounce is important for two key reasons: it's the spot where shares have the furthest to move up before they hit resistance, and it's the spot where the risk is the least (because shares have the least room to move lower before you know you're wrong). Remember, all trend lines do eventually break, but by actually waiting for the bounce to happen first, you're ensuring YHOO can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
Since this is a longer-term trend, the 200-day moving average has been acting like a stellar proxy for trend line support. I'd recommend putting a stop in below that level if you decide to buy YHOO here.
Last up on our list today is network hardware manufacturer Juniper Networks(JNPR) - Get Report, another stock that's clearly been "working" in this grinding market. Year-to-date, Juniper's looking at 8% gains. Zoom out to the last six months and that rally expands to 20%. And as I write, shares are pressing up against a breakout buy level.
JNPR is currently forming an inverse head and shoulders pattern. You can spot the inverse head and shoulders by looking for two swing lows that bottom out around the same level (the shoulders), separated by a bigger trough called the head; the buy signal comes on the breakout above the pattern's "neckline" level. That's the $24.50 level in JNPR.
This pattern isn't exactly textbook -- the inverse head and shoulders normally comes in as a reversal pattern at the bottom of a downtrend, not the top of an uptrend like in JNPR. But that's not a cause for concern here. The pattern may not be "textbook", but either way, the trading implications are exactly the same on a push through $24.50. Wait for the level to get taken out before you jump into the JNPR trade.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.