The S&P 500 may still only be up 2.2% year-to-date, but the gap between what's working and what isn't working in this market is widening.
As I write, there's a nearly nearly 40% performance gap between the price return of the best 10% of S&P components and the bottom 10%. This time last year, that performance gap was just 25%. That's not necessarily bad news, though. Even though there's a chasm forming in the S&P 500 as we head into the summer months, positioning yourself on the right side of it could mean significant gains in the months ahead.
The good news for investors is that you don't need to scour the market for a bunch of obscure names to find outperformance in 2016 -- some of the biggest stocks on Wall Street are the ones that look primed for breakout moves this summer.
To take advantage of that bullish trend in big stocks, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at five large breakout stocks that are showing bullish trades this week -- and when you should 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.
So far, 2016 has been a rebound year for shares of oil and gas giant Chevron (CVX) - Get Report . Since the start of January, this $193 billion energy stock has seen its share price climb more than 13%. But don't worry if you've missed the rally in Chevron so far. This stock looks ready to kick off a second leg higher from here.
Chevron is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish continuation setup that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares at $102.50, and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as Chevron bounces in between those two technically important price levels, shares have been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout through that $102.50 price ceiling. When that happens, we've got our buy signal.
Relative strength, which measures Chevron's price performance vs. the rest of the stock market, is an extra indicator to keep an eye on here. That's because Chevron's relative strength line is holding onto an uptrend since well before shares bottomed in January, an indication that this big stock is still continuing to outperform the market, even now. Once Chevron is able to catch a bid above $102.50, it's time to join the other buyers in this stock.
Japanese printer and camera maker Canon (CAJ) - Get Report is shoving its way into breakout territory this week. All told, 2016 hasn't been a great year for this $38 billion tech stock so far, with shares shedding about 5% of their market value year-to-date. But after the soft start to the year, Wednesday's breakout means that this stock's fortunes could be changing this week.
Canon spent the last month and change forming a rounding bottom pattern, a bullish reversal setup that looks just like it sounds. The rounding bottom signals a gradual shift in control of shares from sellers to buyers, and in Canon's case, it triggered when the $28.50 resistance line at the top of the pattern got taken out. Wednesday's close above $28.50 is a pretty clear-cut buy signal.
For buyers who decide to jump into the Canon trade, risk management is key. Shares have made a longer-term pair of higher lows so far in 2016, and that most recent low at $27.75 makes a logical place to park a protective stop. Put simply, if $27.75 gets violated, then the breakout signal is invalidated, and you don't want to own Canon anymore.
Things have been a lot more directional lately in shares of $104 billion industrial tech stock 3M (MMM) - Get Report . Like many other stocks, 3M started the year on a soft note, bottomed in late January and has been moving higher ever since. Unlike most other stocks, 3M's rebound has been massive. Shares are up 23% since the final week of January. And while shares have taken a break since the start of April, 3M is starting to make a move again this week.
The sideways price action in 3M is a rectangle pattern. It gets its name because the pattern basically "boxes in" shares between horizontal support and resistance lines. For 3M, the levels to watch are resistance up at $170 and support at $165. Rectangles are "if/then patterns." Put a different way, if 3M breaks out through resistance at $170, then traders have a buy signal. Otherwise, if this stock violates support at $165, then the high-probability trade is a sell.
Because 3M's prior trend was up at the start of this year, it favors breaking out above $170. And shares closed within a penny of that key price level yesterday. While we'd want to see a more material breakout than a point or two in order to call a breakout in 3M confirmed, shares are certainly within grabbing distance today. After it happens, the 50-day moving average becomes a logical place to park a stop loss.
Coca-Cola's (KO) - Get Report technical trajectory hasn't changed in almost a year now. Since the end of last summer, this big beverage stock has been bouncing its way higher in a well-defined uptrending channel, giving investors plenty of opportunities to build a position along the way. Coke is still a "buy the dips stock" this month -- and shares are showing traders another buyable dip in May.
Coke's uptrend is about as basic as trading patterns get. The setup is formed by a pair of parallel trendlines that have identified 99% of this stock's price action all year long. And now that Coke is bouncing off of support for a seventh time this week, it makes sense to buy this next leg 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, invalidating the upside trade). Remember, all trend lines do eventually break, but by actually waiting for a bounce to happen first, you're ensuring Coke can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
Last up on our list of big breakouts is beaten-down drug maker Allergan (AGN) - Get Report . Year-to-date, Allergan has been getting pummeled, giving back almost a third of its market value since the start of 2016. But the good news is that the end of that selloff may finally be in sight for long-suffering shareholders -- and it's all thanks to a classic reversal pattern that's showing up on Allergan's chart.
Since the start of April, Allergan has been forming an inverse head and shoulders pattern, a classic reversal pattern that indicates exhaustion among sellers. You can spot the pattern 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," which comes in at $230 in the case of Allergan.
For now, sellers are still asserting themselves at $230, which is an important factor behind the sideways grind shares have endured just below that level for the entire month of May. But that lack of volatility in shares of late could trigger a lot of pent-up upside potential if buyers can muster the strength to shove shares above $230 this week. Keep a close eye on this one; when the breakout happens, the move could happen fast.
From a fundamental perspective, Allergan is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS portfolio. "While we do recognize that volatility may hit shares by the end of June (or until there is concrete approval of the deal), we reiterate that once the overhang has passed, we expect the streamlined branded business, powerful buyback program and acquisition optionality to push shares higher," Cramer and Research Director Jack Mohr recently wrote.
Disclosure: This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.