BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- Want the secret to beating the market in 2015? It's not just about owning the right stocks. Avoiding the wrong stocks probably has a bigger impact on your overall portfolio performance in this environment.
As I write, 42% of the stocks in the big S&P 500 index are down. Of those, a quarter are down double digits. Put simply, the stocks that are underperforming right now are really underperforming. That's why we're taking a technical look at five names that look toxic here.
In other words, these are the stocks that you don't want to own right now.
Just to be clear, the companies I'm talking about today aren't exactly junk. By that, I mean they're not next up in line at bankruptcy court. But that's frankly irrelevant; from a technical analysis standpoint, sellers are shoving around these toxic stocks right now. For that reason, fundamental investors need to decide how long they're willing to take the pain if they want to hold onto these firms in the weeks and months ahead. And for investors looking to buy one of these positions, it makes sense to wait for more favorable technical conditions (and a lower share price) before piling in.
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 entry and exit points.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at five "toxic stocks" you should be unloading.
Up first is Latin American bottling company Coca-Cola FEMSA (KOF) - Get Report, the world's largest Coke bottler. A rallying dollar has been haranguing international stocks in recent months, and Coca-Cola FEMSA has been no exception. Shares are down more than 22% in the past year alone. But the selloff might not be over in KOF just yet. Here's what investors should be watching out for.
Coca-Cola FEMSA is currently forming a descending triangle pattern, a bearish price setup that's formed by horizontal support below shares down at $78 and downtrending resistance to the upside. Basically, as KOF bounces between those two technically significant price levels, it's been getting squeezed closer to a breakdown below our $78 price floor. If that $78 level gets violated, then it's time to sell KOF.
Relative strength, at the bottom of the chart, is an extra red flag in KOF. That's because our relative strength line has been in a downtrend for the last year and change, an indication that shares aren't just losing steam here, they're also significantly underperforming the rest of the market. As long as our relative strength downtrend stays intact, Coca-Cola FEMSA will keep underperforming the broad market.
This stock looks ugly here, but it becomes toxic with a move below $78.
Financial market operator Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) - Get Report has fared better than KOF lately. In fact, shares are up more than 19% in the last 12 months, nearly doubling the S&P 500's price performance over that same stretch. But investors might want to think about taking some gains off the table in ICE, at least in the short-term. This stock is starting to show signs of a top.
ICE has spent the last couple of months forming a double-top pattern, a bearish reversal setup that looks just like it sounds. The double top is formed by a pair of swing highs that peak at approximately the same level. The sell signal comes on a violation of the trough that separates those two tops. For ICE, that's the $227 support level on the chart. If $227 gets violated, then look out below.
Momentum is the side indicator to watch in ICE. While shares retested their February highs again last month, our momentum gauge, 14-day RSI, made a lower high. That's an indication that buying pressure is fading into the end of the double-top pattern.
We're close enough to $227 in ICE that it makes sense for investors to watch that level closely this week.
FedEx (FDX) - Get Report is another big stock that's been looking solid in the last year. Shares have climbed more than 28% in the trailing 12 months, boosted by plummeting fuel prices and higher shipping volumes. But it doesn't exactly take an expert trader to figure out what's been going on with FedEx's chart more recently; this price pattern is about as simple as they get.
FDX has been bouncing its way lower in a downtrending channel since December, swatted down on every test of the top of the channel. The downtrend in FDX is pretty well defined by a pair of parallel trend lines that identify the high-probability range for shares to stay stuck within. And now, as shares come up to test resistance for the fifth time, it makes sense to sell the bounce.
Waiting for that bounce lower before clicking "sell" is a critical part of risk management for two big reasons: it's the spot where prices are the highest within the channel, and alternatively it's the spot where you'll get the first indication that the downtrend is ending. Remember, all trend lines do eventually break, but by actually waiting for the bounce to happen first, you're confirming that sellers are still in control before you unload shares of FDX.
Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group
$55 billion Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMFG) - Get Report has been rallying hard since February, boosted by the performance of Japan's equity markets as a whole. Shares of SMFG are up nearly 17% over the course of that two-month stretch. But Sumitomo has been looking "toppy" lately thanks to a textbook reversal pattern, and that means that investors might want to think about reducing exposure or taking gains.
Since the end of February, this stock has been forming a head and shoulders top, a setup that indicates exhaustion among buyers. The setup is formed by two swing highs that top out at approximately the same level (the shoulders), separated by a higher high (the head). The sell signal comes on a move through SMFG's neckline at $7.70.
Why all of the significance at $7.70? It's not magic. Whenever you're looking at any technical price pattern, it's critical to keep buyers and sellers in mind. Patterns such as the head and shoulders are a good way to quickly describe what's going on in a stock, but they're not the reason it's tradable. Instead, it all comes down to supply and demand for Sumitomo's shares.
That $7.70 level in SMFG is the spot where there's previously been an excess of demand for shares; in other words, it's a price where buyers have been more eager to step in and buy shares at a lower price than sellers were to sell. That's what makes a breakdown below support so significant -- it means that sellers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess demand at the at price level.
Keep a close eye on that $7.70 price in SMFG. Once sellers knock out that level, you don't want to own it.
Anheuser Busch InBev
Finally, we're seeing the exact same setup in shares of brewing giant Anheuser Busch InBev (BUD) - Get Report. Just like SMFG, BUD is forming a pretty textbook head and shoulders top, in this case with a neckline at $120. If that $120 line in the sand gets crossed, then it's time to be a seller.
Momentum confirms the downside risk in BUD here. 14-day RSI, our momentum gauge, made lower highs on each peak in the head and shoulders, indicating that selling pressure has been building in spite of the fact that shares are just a couple points off of all-time highs right now. That's a definite red flag to keep an eye on.
That said, it's important to remember that you want to be reactionary with this trade. A downside move in BUD doesn't trigger unless $120 gets violated. On the other hand, if shares of BUD can manage to push above their prior highs at $128, then the head and shoulders pattern is broken.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.