U.S. markets rolled over after the Federal Reserve's January statement was released yesterday, as investors got spooked by the idea that the Fed might be backpedaling on its rate hike plans for 2016.
The big S&P 500 index gave back another 1.1% by the closing bell Wednesday, ratcheting this year's price decline in the S&P to 7.9%. Just to put that number into some context, that drop annualizes out to a 67% drop.
Luckily for investors, there's some good news hidden away behind the scary market stats. While the market averages are looking sullen this month, some stocks are actually working in this market. Almost 15% of the individual stocks in the S&P 500 are actually up in 2016, and about a quarter of S&P components were effectively hovering at a 52-week high sometime in 2016.
It's probably not a shocking piece of advice that the stocks that are working are the stocks you want to own this year.
What might be more surprising is the fact that some Wall Street's biggest names are suddenly looking ready to make breakout moves as January comes to a close. To figure out which stocks you'll want to own as we head in February, we're turning to the charts for a technical look.
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
Up first on our list is $214 billion consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (PG) - Get Report . P&G is the prototypical blue-chip stock -- and it's also been a prototype for the type of relative strength investors should be on the lookout for right now. Shares are within grabbing distance of hitting new multi-month highs this week.
Shares of this consumer non-cyclical have been moving up and to the right since they bottomed back in September, up almost 16% since those lows last fall. But don't worry if you missed the move in P&G. This stock looks likely to kick off a second leg higher from here.
Procter & Gamble is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish price setup that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares (at $80, in this case), and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as shares of Procter have bounced between those two technically significant price levels, this stock has been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout through our $80 price ceiling. When that breakout happens, we've got our buy signal.
Down at the bottom of the chart, relative strength has been accelerating. That's an indication that P&G is outperforming the rest of the broad market at an increasing rate. As long as our relative strength line keeps making higher lows, Procter & Gamble should keep on beating the S&P.
Philip Morris International
We're seeing the same setup in shares of Philip Morris International (PM) - Get Report right now. This $135 billion tobacco company has been forming a textbook ascending triangle setup of its own since the end of October -- and shares were testing the top of the pattern in yesterday's trading session. For Philip Morris International, the key breakout level to watch is resistance up at $89.50.
Why all of that significance at the $89.50 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, such as this ascending triangle setup in Philip Morris, 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 Philip Morris' shares themselves.
The $89.50 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 $89.50 so significant -- the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level. Don't try to get into the Philip Morris trade early; it doesn't become a high-probability trade until $89.50 gets taken out.
Things are looking pretty good right now in shares of home improvement retailer Home Depot (HD) - Get Report right now -- and the good news is that you don't need to be an expert technical trader to figure out why. Instead, the price action in this big-box retail chain is about as simple as it gets. Home Depot has been a "buy-the-dips stock" for the last nine months, and we're getting another buyable dip this week.
Since last April, Home Depot has been bouncing its way higher in a well-defined uptrending channel. The uptrend in shares is formed by a pair of parallel trendlines that have identified the high probability range for shares since last spring. Put simply, the last four tests of the bottom of that price channel so far have provided investors with a high-probability buying opportunity, and shares are confirming their fifth bounce this week.
If you decide to be a buyer here, the 200-day moving average is a logical place to park a protective stop. That's because the 200-day has been acting like a good proxy for support for our long-term trend in Home Depot. In other words, if the 200-day gets violated, you don't want to own this home improvement stock anymore.
Mega-cap tech stock Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report is another big-name that's been bouncing its way higher in an uptrend. For Microsoft, the trend channel started in late August, and it's shown traders four buyable bounces so far -- the most recent is this week.
The channel in Microsoft is a little more complicated than the one in Home Depot: Shares broke out above the top of the channel in late October, and they returned to the lower half of their range again in January. The key to the Microsoft trade is trendline support. Our trend line support level has remained inviolate since the start of the uptrend, and as long as it holds, Microsoft is likely to keep moving towards higher ground. From here, the buy signal comes on the next bounce off of that support line.
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 Microsoft can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
The last few months have been challenging for BCE shareholders. This stock has shed about 10% of its market value since mid-October, underperforming the S&P 500 by a material margin. But shares are finally starting to look "bottomy" thanks to a classic technical reversal pattern that's been forming in BCE in the short-term. Here's how to trade it.
BCE is currently forming an inverse head and shoulders pattern, a classic reversal 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 came on the breakout above the pattern's "neckline". That's the $40 level in BCE right now.
Price momentum, measured by 14-day RSI, adds some extra confidence to this trade. Our momentum gauge has been in an uptrend since the middle of the summer, making higher lows on each of the reversal-points on BCE's price setup. That's a bullish divergence that indicates buying pressure is quietly building in shares.
Wait for $40 to get taken out before trying to buy this turnaround trade. Shares are within grabbing distance heading into today's session.
Disclosure: This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.