Yesterday's price action was enough to make trader seasick. From peak to trough, the S&P 500 saw a 2.4% swing Wednesday as buyers and sellers wrestled for control of the big index. Buyers won the fistfight, the S&P settling in at a 0.5% gain for the day.
Obviously, that stat didn't tell the whole story about what was really going on in the broad market.
Neither does the S&P's 6.43% price decline in 2016. That stat ignores the fact that, while the broad market looks awash in a sea of red ink right now, a big subset of stocks are actually working in this environment. As I write, nearly 27% of the stocks in the S&P are actually up year-to-date -- and some are up a lot. It's probably not a shocking piece of advice that the stocks that are working are the stocks you want to own this year.
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.
Up first on our list is $107 billion health care stock Medtronic (MDT - Get Report) . Medtronic hasn't moved much in the last six months or so. Shares are down 1.3% on a total returns basis over that stretch. But zoom in a bit, and a very noticeable trend emerges. Since shares bottomed back in late September, this stock has managed to rally more than 18% higher.
But don't worry if you've missed that move. Medtronic looks ready to kick off a second leg higher in 2016.
Medtronic is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish continuation pattern that signals the possibility for more upside ahead. Medtronic's ascending triangle setup is formed by horizontal resistance up above shares (at $78 in this case) and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as shares pinball in between those two technically meaningful price levels, Medtronic has been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout above its $78 price ceiling. When that happens, we've got our buy signal.
Relative strength (not to be confused with RSI at the top of the chart) adds some extra confidence to the upside in Medtronic right now. That's because this stock's relative strength line is holding its uptrend line from last fall, indicating that shares are still beating the broad market in the long-term. If $78 gets taken out, then we've got our signal that buyers are back in control of shares.
We're seeing the exact same setup in shares of tobacco giant Altria Group (MO - Get Report) right now. Like Medtronic, Altria has been forming an ascending triangle of its own since the end of October. For Altria, the big breakout level to watch is long-term resistance at $61, a price level that's getting tested this week.
Why all of that significance at the $61 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, like this ascending triangle setup in Altria, 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 Altria's shares themselves.
The $61 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 $61 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 Altria trade early.It doesn't become a high-probability trade until $61 gets taken out.
It's been a rough run for $18 billion Canadian communications company Rogers Communications (RCI - Get Report) in recent months. Since the end of October, this big telco has lost almost 15% of its market value in a steady decline. But shareholders could have a reprieve coming up -- and it all comes down to the $35.50 breakout level in Rogers.
Rogers is currently forming a rounding bottom pattern, a bullish reversal pattern that looks just like it sounds. The rounding bottom indicates a gradual shift in control of shares from sellers to buyers, and it triggers when the top of the pattern gets taken out. For Rogers, that's at the previously mentioned $35.50 resistance level. It's important to wait for confirmation before buying the $35.50 breakout in Rogers; shares have tested trading above that blue line in the last month, only to move back below it by the end of the trading session. Look for a close above $35.50 followed by a consecutive open above it as the yardstick for what constitutes a "confirmed" buy signal.
Once that trade signal triggers, look at prior support at $33 as a logical place to park a protective stop in Rogers. If $33 gets violated, then buyers are back in control, and you don't want to own this stock anymore.
Yesterday came with an ugly correction for shares of Alphabet (GOOG - Get Report) . The tech giant shed 4.93% during the session, enough to make it one of the biggest price drags on the S&P during Wednesday's session. It wasn't enough of a correction, however, to take away Alphabet's new crown as the world's most valuable company.
Likewise, it wasn't a big enough correction to threaten the uptrend that this company has been corralled in for the last six months or so. Instead, we're coming up on a big potential buying opportunity in Alphabet, and you don't need to be an expert trader to figure out why.
Since last July, Alphabet 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 moving down towards a fifth test this week. From here, it makes sense to buy the bounce.
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 Alphabet can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
Cognizant Technology Solutions
Last up on our list of potential breakout trades is IT consulting giant Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTSH - Get Report) . Cognizant has been getting pressured lower for the past several months now, but its trajectory could be about to change. That's because Cognizant is in the final stages of a classic reversal pattern this week. The breakout buy signal comes on a push through $63.
Cognizant 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 comes on the breakout above the pattern's "neckline." That's the previously mentioned $63 level in Cognizant 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 beginning of December, making higher lows on each of the reversal-points on Cognizant's price setup. That's a bullish divergence that indicates buying pressure is quietly building in shares. When $63 gets taken out, the reversal is complete, and it's time to join the buyers.