Skip to main content

Editors' Pick: Originally Published Friday, Dec. 18.

Thursday's 1.5% drop in the S&P 500 provided little reminder that there's still plenty of anxiety left in the big stock indices, even after the Fed'sbig rate decision this week.

The S&P has been teetering on the edge of breakeven in recent sessions. Thursday's big correction pushed the big index back into the red for 2015. The big open secret for stock market investors this year has been the fact that stock picking has actually mattered quite a bit; despite zero performance from the market averages, a big swath of the individual stocks within the S&P have actually managed to perform well in 2015. As I write, approximately 20% of S&P components are up double-digits (or better) year-to-date.

The flip side is that an equally large chunk of stocks is down double digits this year. No doubt about it, a very sizable subset of the S&P has been downright toxic for your portfolio's performance this year. And outperforming in 2016 could be as simple as just not owning those names.

To stay a step ahead of the market this winter, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at five big-name stocks that are starting to look toxic.

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.

Just so we're clear, the companies I'm talking about today are hardly junk. By that, I mean they're not next up in line at bankruptcy court -- and many of them have very strong businesses. But that's frankly irrelevant to what happens to their stocks; 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.

So without further ado, let's take a look at five toxic stocks to sell.


Image placeholder title

It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that we're starting off in the energy sector. Energy stocks have been some of the worst performers in 2015, as commodity prices plummeted this year. And Chinese energy giant Cnooc (CEO) - Get CNOOC Ltd. Report  has been no exception to that rule, losing more than a quarter of its market value since the calendar flipped over to January.

But Cnooc could have even more downside ahead of it this month, thanks to a bearish technical setup that's been forming in shares since the end of August.

Cnooc is currently forming a descending triangle pattern, a bearish continuation pattern that's formed by horizontal support down below shares (at $97.50 in the case of this stock), and downtrending resistance to the upside. Basically, as Cnooc bounces in between those two technically important price levels, this stock has been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakdown through our $97.50 price floor. If $97.50 gets violated, we've got our sell signal.

Relative strength, which measures Cnooc's price performance versus the broad market, is an extra red flag to watch here. Our relative strength line is still holding onto its downtrend in December, which tells us that this stock continues to underperform the rest of the market in the long term. If you own this stock right now, it makes sense to keep a very close eye on $97.50 support.

Nabors Industries

TheStreet Recommends

Image placeholder title

We're seeing the exact same setup in another energy sector stock: Nabors Industries (NBR) - Get Nabors Industries Ltd. Report . Just like Cnooc, Nabors has spent the last few months forming a textbook descending triangle pattern. Unlike the Chinese oil company, Nabors is already testing a big breakdown this week. For Nabors, the key price level to watch here is support at $9.

Why all of the significance at that $9 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, like this descending triangle in Nabors Industries, 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 Nabors' shares.

The $9 support level is a price where there has been an excess of demand for shares; in other words, it's a spot where buyers have been previously been more eager to step in and buy than sellers are to take gains. That's what makes a breakdown below $9 so significant -- the move would mean that sellers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess demand at that price level. This week's violation of the $9 level means that it's time to be a seller in NBR.

Bed Bath & Beyond

Image placeholder title

It doesn't take an expert technical trader to figure out what's been going on in shares of housewares retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) - Get Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. Report  this year. The price action in this $9 billion stock is about as simple as it gets. Bed Bath & Beyond has been bouncing its way lower in a well-defined downtrend since March, and shares are riding the bottom of that price channel in December.

Bed Bath & Beyond's price channel is formed by a pair of parallel trend lines that identify the high-probability range for shares of this stock to remain stuck within. Every test of the top of this stock's price channel has been a great selling opportunity so far, and that makes any near-term move higher in this stock look suspect. Because Bed Bath & Beyond can't seem to catch a bid here, it makes sense to sell the next bounce lower.

Generally speaking, 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 contrarians will 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 Bed Bath & Beyond.


Image placeholder title

After struggling to start the year on the right foot, paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams (SHW) - Get Sherwin-Williams Company Report  finally looked like it was building some momentum after shares bottomed back in late September. But Sherwin-Williams' rebound is starting to show some cracks this winter. Here's how to trade it.

Sherwin-Williams is currently forming a textbook head and shoulders top, a bearish reversal pattern that indicates exhaustion among buyers. The head and shoulders pattern 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 Sherwin-Williams' neckline, which is at the $260 price level.

Like with any technical trade, it's important to actually wait for Sherwin-Williams to violate $260 before trying to unload it. That's because this isn't the first time this year that shares have started waving red flags, only to continue moving higher. Buyers are still back in control in shares of Sherwin-Williams until $260 gets broken.

BT Group 

Image placeholder title

We're seeing the exact same setup in shares of London-based communications stock BT Group (BT) . Like Sherwin-Williams, BT Group rebounded in the late summer, only to start forming a pretty textbook head and shoulders pattern in the last couple of months. For BT, the neckline level to watch is down at $35.

The side indicator to watch right now in BT Group is momentum. Our momentum gauge, 14-day RSI, has been rolling over, making lower highs on the price action's three peaks. That's an indication that down days are outpacing up days in this stock.

Finally, don't get thrown off by the abundance of gaps on BT Group's chart right now. Those gaps, called suspension gaps, are caused by overnight trading on the London Stock Exchange. They can be ignored for trading purposes. Shares are testing our $35 support line in today's session – if you own shares of this $60 billion telco, it's a very good idea to keep a close eye on how it holds up.

Disclosure: This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.