Updated with additional comments from Jim Cramer.
After an awful start to the year, energy stocks have been quietly staging a turnaround in 2016. Year-to-date, the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE - Get Report) is up 14% on a total returns basis, stomping the rest of the broad market by comparison.
Even more impressive, XLE is up almost 33% from its lows back in January. In short, the trend higher is alive and well in the energy sector right now. The good news is that the performance isn't all in the rearview mirror either -- a handful of energy stocks look primed for breakout moves this summer.
To figure out which energy stocks look positioned to outperform here, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at five stocks that are teetering on the edge of breakout territory this summer.
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 upside potential right now.
Leading off our list of energy sector trades is $3.8 billion oil, gas, and coal stock Consol Energy (CNX - Get Report) . 2016 has been an exceptional year for Consol. Shares have more than doubled since the calendar flipped to January, and after spending the last several weeks tracking sideways, this stock finally looks ready to make another move higher. Here's how to trade it.
Consol Energy is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish continuation setup that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares at $16, and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as Consol bounces in between those two technically significant price levels, this stock has been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout above that $16 price ceiling. A material move above $16 is our buy signal -- and shares are flirting with that breakout move this week.
Relative strength is the side indicator that adds some confidence to Consol trade right now. Our relative strength line, which measures this stock's price performance versus the broad market, has been in an uptrend since the beginning of the year, confirming that this stock is still outperforming, even after its triple-digit winning streak in 2016.
If shares can hold on above $16 throughout today's session, consider it a buy signal.
We've got the exact same price setup in play right now with shares of oilfield service giant Schlumberger (SLB - Get Report) . Schlumberger's performance stats are a little misleading. While this stock is up "only" 11.8% so far this year, the real performance number that investors should be paying attention to is 30%. That's how much this $110 billion energy giant has rallied since its downtrend ended in January.
For Schlumberger, the key breakout level to watch is resistance up at $82. What's so special about the $82 level? It all comes down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, such as this ascending triangle setup in Schlumberger, are a good quick way to identify what's going on in the price action, but they're not the actual reason that makes the stock tradable. Instead, the "why" comes down to basic supply and demand for Schlumberger's shares themselves.
The $82 resistance level is a price at which there has been an excess of supply of shares; in other words, it's a spot where sellers have been more eager to step in and take gains than buyers have been to buy. That's what makes a breakout above $82 so significant -- the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level.
Schlumberger still has a little room to move higher before it hits breakout territory, but shares are close enough to pay attention to this week.
Schlumberger is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable portfolio. "Schlumberger is a world class oil service company that has distinguished itself as the first to bring costs down to where it can make a very good profit and buyback stock even at these levels," said Cramer. "It is a solid buy and I think can appreciate strongly if oil can punch through $50."
Norwegian oil and gas giant Statoil (STO) is another huge energy stock that's teetering on the edge of breakout territory this week. Statoil's price chart doesn't look too different from Schlumberger's heading into May, but the two charts began to diverge from there, with Statoil showing traders a slightly less-than-textbook price setup in the intervening months.
Statoil is currently forming a rounding bottom pattern, a price setup that looks just like it sounds. The rounding bottom indicates a gradual shift in control of shares from sellers to buyers -- and it triggers with a move through the resistance level at the top of the stock's price range. For Statoil, that price ceiling to watch is $17.50. If shares can break out above that level, we've got a fresh buy signal.
Typically, the rounding bottom is a price setup that shows itself at the bottom of a downtrend, not after a bout of outperformance, like we're seeing here. Still, while the price action in Statoil isn't exactly textbook, it's still tradable. If buyers can muster the strength to push Statoil above $17.50, it's time to join them.
Statoil isn't the only overseas oil company that's on the verge of signaling a buy right now. We're seeing a bullish trading setup in shares of China's national oil and gas producer, PetroChina (PTR - Get Report) , as well. The good news is that it doesn't take a technical trading expert to figure out what's going on with PetroChina's chart. Instead, the price action in this $200 billion energy giant is about as simple as it gets.
Since bottoming back in January, PetroChina has been bouncing its way higher in a wide-ranging uptrending channel. The uptrend in PetroChina is formed by a pair of parallel support and resistance lines that have managed to corral about 99% of this stock's price action in 2016. Put simply, every time this stock has touched the bottom of its price range, it's presented traders with a low-risk, high-reward buying opportunity. So, as PetroChina pushes off of support for the fourth time here, it makes sense to buy this 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 PetroChina can still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
Moving quite a bit down the size scale brings us to small-cap independent oil and gas producer Erin Energy (ERN) . Erin Energy hasn't fared as well as its larger peers so far in 2016. In fact, shares are actually down 27% since the start of the calendar year. But the good news is that shares are starting to look "bottomy" in the very long term.
Since January, Erin Energy has been forming an inverse head and shoulders pattern, a price setup that signals exhaustion among sellers. This stock's chart pattern is formed by 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 ERN's neckline at $2.75 - that's the key price level to watch from here.
Price momentum is the indicator to look at in Erin Energy. 14-day RSI, our momentum gauge up at the top of the price chart, made a series of higher lows at the same time its price was bottoming in the inverse head and shoulders pattern. That's a bullish divergence that tells us buying pressure has been quietly building behind the scenes. Once shares can catch a bid above $2.75, we've got our signal that buyers are finally back in control of Erin Energy.