BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- It's earnings season, and that means that a data dump is hitting Wall Street as companies release their quarterly numbers to investors. And so far, the early numbers look good.
As I write, 72% of early-reporting companies have exceeded analysts' estimates this quarter, and we're starting to see some big earnings-fuelled price moves as a result. But it's not just firms reporting numbers that benefit from a bullish earnings environment. Peers and partners can rally on another company's earnings results too.
Not all setups are created equal. To find the stocks that look predisposed for breakout gains this summer, we're turning to the charts to take a closer technical look at five huge stocks to trade for gains.
First, a little 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.
Up first is $126 billion biopharmaceutical giant Allergan (AGN - Get Report). This big health care stock has benefited in a big way from the rally in the rest of the sector, climbing more than 24% since the calendar flipped to January. But don't worry if you've missed the move in Allergan so far. Shares look ready to kick off a second leg higher this month.
Allergan spent the last few months forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish technical setup that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares at $315 and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as Allergan bounced in between those two technically-important price levels, it was getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout above our $315 price ceiling. That buy signal triggered with Monday's breakout.
Relative strength (not to be confused with RSI) adds some extra confidence to buying Allergan right now. That's because our relative strength line has been in an uptrend going all the way back to last fall, an indication that Allergan is consistently outperforming the rest of the market long-term. If you decide to be a buyer here, consider putting a protective stop on the other side of the 50-day moving average.
We're seeing the same pattern in shares of medical device maker Boston Scientific (BSX - Get Report). The big difference is that the price action isn't quite as far along in this setup. In other words, there's even more time to get ready to pull the trigger on this trade when the breakout happens. For Boston Scientific, the buy signal comes of a push above $18.50 resistance.
Why all of that significance at that $18.50 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, such as this ascending triangle setup in Boston Scientific, 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 Boston Scientific's stock.
The $18.50 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 $18.50 so significant. The move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level.
Like with any breakout trade, it's important to be reactionary here. Don't buy Boston Scientific until buyers are able to shove this stock above $18.50.
Good news: You don't need to be an expert technical trader to figure out what's been going on in shares of $10 billion defense communications company Harris (HRS). Instead, the price action is about as basic as it gets. Since last fall, Harris has been bouncing its way higher in a well-defined uptrending channel.
In short, it's been a "buy-the-dips stock" for the better part of the last year -- and as shares come up off their latest dip this summer, it makes sense to be a buyer here.
The uptrend in Harris is identified by a pair of parallel trend lines that have corralled shares since October. Those lines represent this stock's high-probability range from here -- and that means that shares still have further to run in the near-term before they start to encounter any meaningful resistance. That's why it makes sense to buy this latest bounce.
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 Harris can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
Home improvement retailer Home Depot (HD - Get Report) is another big stock that's looking buyable thanks to a pretty basic move off a trend line. The difference here is that Home Depot isn't bouncing off of the bottom of an uptrend. In this case, it's breaking out of a downtrend that's been pushing shares lower since March.
The downtrend in Home Depot this year may have been shallow, but it was well-defined. It also wasn't especially surprising. Between the start of 2014 and this past March, Home Depot rallied more than 41%, stomping the rest of the broad market by comparison. Some semblance of a correction was just a matter of time. And now, this week's breakout clears the way to a resumption of this stock's prior uptrend.
If you decide to be a buyer of Home Depot shares on this week's move, just keep a tight stop in place. While this stock looks buyable here, the new trend isn't very well-established yet, and if shares violate that red line on the chart you won't want to own it anymore.
Last up on our list is Hormel Foods (HRL - Get Report), a $15 billion food processor that's been climbing more than 11% higher since the start of the year. Hormel looks like it's getting ready to kick off a second leg higher in July.
Hormel is currently forming an inverse head and shoulders pattern. 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” level. That's the $58.50 level in Hormel. Typically, the inverse head and shoulders is a reversal pattern that comes at the bottom of a downtrend, not a setup you'd expect to see at the top of Hormel's recent range -- but even though this price setup it's textbook, the trading implications are exactly the same on a break of $58.50 resistance.
If $58.50 gets taken out, Hormel becomes a buy, textbook trade or not.
Don't think that the inverse head and shoulders is too well known to be worth trading – an academic study conducted by the Federal Reserve Board of New York found that the results of 10,000 computer-simulated head-and-shoulders trades resulted in "profits [that] would have been both statistically and economically significant." That's a very good reason to keep a close eye on Hormel this summer.