The Fed is feeling anxious about global growth -- at least that's the message that investors got from yesterday afternoon's release of the central bank's March policy meeting minutes.
That caution from Janet Yellen and company appears to be a note that investors are taking in stride. Despite a momentary burble in Wednesday's price action, the S&P 500 index still managed to end the session up more than 1% higher. Just in case there was any question, the bulls are still clearly in control of things this spring, ratcheting the S&P's rebound performance to about 12% since the broad market bottomed back in mid-February.
And even more upside looks like it could be on tap in some of Wall Street's biggest stocks in April. To take advantage of the breakout stance in stocks, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at five big stocks that are showing bullish trades this week -- and when to buy them.
First, a quick note on the technical toolbox we're using here: Technical analysis is a study of the market itself. Since the market is ultimately the only mechanism that determines a stock's price, technical analysis is a valuable tool even in the roughest of trading conditions. Technical charts are used every day by proprietary trading floors, Wall Street's biggest financial firms and individual investors to get an edge on the market. And research shows that skilled technical traders can bank gains as much as 90% of the time.
Every week, I take an in-depth look at big names that are telling important technical stories. Here's this week's look at five big stocks to trade.
Procter & Gamble
Topping off the list this week is Procter & Gamble(PG) - Get Report . As a stereotypical blue chip, Procter is more or less expected to move with the rest of the market -- but in fact, shares have been serially outperforming lately. P&G's shares have rallied almost 6% in 2016 alone and more than 22% since last September. But don't worry if you've missed the recent up-move in Procter & Gamble; shares look ready to kick off a second leg higher in April.
Procter & Gamble is currently forming a textbook ascending triangle pattern, a bullish continuation pattern that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares (at $84 in P&G's case) and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as Procter ricochets between those two technically important price levels, shares have been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout above their $84 price ceiling. When that happens, we've got our buy signal.
The 50-day moving average has been acting like a decent proxy for support for the last month and a half now. That makes it a logical place to park a protective stop once P&G can catch a meaningful big above $84. Stay tuned -- shares ended yesterday's session within grabbing distance of that big breakout level.
We're seeing a similar price setup in shares of mid-cap education lender SLM(SLM) - Get Report -- albeit with a bit of a twist. SLM's ascending triangle pattern is showing up at the end of a downtrend, rather than the top of an uptrend like P&G's pattern. But even though this stock's price setup isn't textbook, it's still tradable. The key breakout level to watch for in SLM is resistance up at $6.75.
Why all of that significance at the $6.75 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, like this ascending triangle pattern in SLM, 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 SLM's shares themselves.
The $6.75 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 $6.75 so significant -- the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level. Keep a close eye on SLM here -- shares could be ready for a major change in trend.
It's been a pretty awful year for shares of pharma firm AstraZeneca(AZN) - Get Report -- shares of this big drug maker have fallen nearly 15% since the calendar flipped to January, underperforming the rest of the broad market in a very big way. In fact, AstraZeneca has even underperformed the rest of the laggard-filled pharma sector by half-again year to date. But long-suffering shareholders could be in store for a reprieve. Here's why.
AstraZeneca is currently forming a double bottom pattern, a bullish reversal setup that looks just like it sounds. The double bottom pattern is formed by a pair of swing lows that bottom out around the same level -- the buy signal comes on a breakout through the peak that separates those two troughs. For AstraZeneca, that breakout level to watch is resistance up at $30.
Momentum, measured by 14-day RSI up at the top of the chart, adds some extra confidence to AstraZeneca's price setup right now. Momentum has been making higher lows at the same time this stock's price action made its second bottom in the pattern -- that's a bullish divergence that signals buying pressure is building in AstraZeneca. If $30 gets taken out, we've got our signal that buyers are back in control of shares.
Things are looking pretty straightforward in shares of Microsoft(MSFT) - Get Report right now. This gigantic tech firm may only be around breakeven year-to-date, but zoom out on the chart a bit, and Microsoft's true trajectory becomes a bit clearer. In short, Microsoft is a "buy-the-dips stock" right now -- and shares are showing traders a buyable dip this spring.
Since last fall, Microsoft has been bouncing its way higher in a wide-ranging uptrending channel. The trend is formed by a pair of parallel trend lines that have corralled this stock's price action since shares bottomed back in late August -- every test of the bottom of the channel has provided an excellent buying opportunity from a risk-reward standpoint. From here, it makes sense to buy Microsoft's next bounce off of that long-term support line.
Actually waiting for the next bounce is important for two key reasons: It's the spot where shares have the most room 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 the channel breaks, and you know you're wrong). Remember, all trend lines do eventually break, but by actually waiting for a bounce to happen first, you're ensuring Microsoft can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
The last potential breakout trade we're looking at today is $10 billion beauty company Coty (COTY) - Get Report , a company that actually has something in common with the first stock on the list today -- Coty is in the process of buying Procter & Gamble's specialty beauty business. But the price pattern that in play in shares of Coty is pretty far removed from the one in P&G right now. Coty is showing traders a long-term reversal setup that triggers a buy with a move through $29.50.
The classic reversal pattern in Coty is an inverse head and shoulders, a price setup that signals exhaustion among sellers. 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". That's the aforementioned $29.50 level in Coty. The trading pattern in this stock is long-term -- it began forming last fall -- and that means it also comes with long-term breakout implications if shares are able to trade above their neckline.
Remember to be reactionary here -- technical analysis is a risk-management tool, not a crystal ball. Coty doesn't become a high-probability trade until buyers are strong enough to keep shares above $29.50. Once that happens, the 50-day moving average becomes a strong place to put a stop loss.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.