Who says utility stocks are boring?
The utility sector has been anything but boring in 2016, rallying nearly 8% in the first seven weeks of the year. For a little perspective, the rest of the S&P 500 is down about 5% over that same stretch. And the outperformance in the utility sector isn't showing any signs of slowing down as we round out the second month of the year.
Quite the contrary, in fact.
As the broad market rebounds this week, a handful of big utility stocks actually look primed for breakout moves. That means we're likely to see that outperformance persist as the calendar heads into March. To find the utilities that look best positioned for higher ground from here, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at five stocks showing buyable trading patterns.
In case you're unfamiliar with technical analysis, here's the executive summary: 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, here's a rundown of five technical setups that are showing solid trading potential right now.
Up first on our list of bullish utility setups is mid-cap electric transmission stock ITC Holdings (ITC) . ITC Holdings has been a strong performer lately, up almost 25% in the past three months alone. But don't worry if you've missed the move so far in ITC. A breakout in this utility trade yesterday is signaling a second leg higher.
ITC has spent the last two months forming a textbook ascending triangle pattern, a bullish price setup that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares (at $40.50 in this case) and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as ITC has bounced in between those two technically significant price levels, shares have been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout above their $40.50 price ceiling. The buy signal came with yesterday's push above $40.50.
Relative Strength (not to be confused with RSI at the top of the chart) adds some extra confidence to the upside in ITC right now. That's because this stock's relative strength line is holding its uptrend line from last December, indicating that shares are still beating the broad market in 2016. If you decide to be a buyer here, support at the 50-day moving average is a logical place to park a stop loss order below.
We're seeing the exact same setup in shares of Oneok (OKE) - Get Report right now, albeit with a bit of a twist. Like ITC, Oneok is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, only this price setup is showing up at the bottom of shares' recent range, not the top like traders could normally expect with this price pattern. Ultimately, the non-textbook setup doesn't change the trading implications in Oneok. Shares trigger a buy signal with a breakout up above $25.
Why all of that significance at the $25 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, like this ascending triangle pattern in Oneok, 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 Oneok's shares.
The $25 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 $25 so significant -- the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level. Remember to be reactionary here. Upside in Oneok doesn't become a high-probability trade until shares are able to catch a bid materially above $25.
Large-cap energy utility NextEra Energy (NEE) - Get Report is having a great start to 2016. Just seven weeks into the year, NextEra is up more than 11%, leaving the rest of the S&P in its dust. Thing is, this stock could have considerably higher to move in the near-term -- NextEra is testing a major resistance level up at $116 right now.
NextEra has spent most of February in correction-mode, retreating after a test of $116 earlier this year. In the near-term, shares have been forming a rounding bottom pattern, a price setup that's normally a bullish reversal pattern. The rounding bottom indicates a gradual shift in control of shares from sellers to buyers – more often than not, the pattern shows up at the bottom of a downtrend, not the top of an uptrend. But even though, like the chart of Oneok we just looked at, NextEra isn't a textbook price pattern, the trading implications are still the same.
A breakout above $116 means that buyers have taken control of shares, and it's time to join them. Like with any technical trade, risk management is crucial for anyone looking for a buying opportunity in NextEra. If you decide to buy the $116 breakout, be sure to keep a tight stop under prior support at $111.
8point3 Energy Partners
Good news: You don't need to be an expert technical trader to figure out what's been happening in shares of solar energy utility 8point3 Energy Partners (CAFD) . Instead, the price action in this stock has been about as basic as it gets. Since shares bottomed last October, 8point3 has been a "buy-the-dips stock." And shares are rallying off their latest buyable dip this month…
8point3's price setup is an uptrending price channel. The uptrend in shares is formed by a pair of parallel trendlines that have identified the high probability range for shares to stay stuck within -- every test of trendline support has provided a low-risk, high-reward buying opportunity. And shares are bouncing off of support for a fifth time right now. From here, it makes sense to buy this bounce higher.
Actually waiting for that 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 8point3 can actually still muster buying pressure along that line before you put your money on shares.
Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners
This isn't the first time I've looked at shares of Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (BEP) - Get Report in the last few months. In fact, this stock was one of the names that I featured as a potentially toxic stock at the end of 2015. And sure enough, shares rolled over hard in the first few weeks of the year, starting 2016 off with a double-digit decline.
But things are starting to look up for Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners -- and now, this stock is looking like a turnaround trade.
More specifically, Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners has been forming an inverse head and shoulders pattern. The inverse head and shoulders is a technical reversal setup that indicates exhaustion among sellers. You can spot this price pattern by looking for two swing lows that bottom out at approximately the same level (the shoulders), separated by a lower low (the head). The buy signal comes on a move through BEP's neckline, which is currently at the $27.50 level.
With 2015's downtrend officially broken in February, Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners could be getting ready to make up for last year's decline with a rebound. If $27.50 gets taken out, upside in BEP becomes the high-probability trade.
Disclosure: This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.