Bigger isn't always better when it comes to the stock market -- while the bluest of the blue-chips might get most of the attention from Wall Street, they're not necessarily the stocks that are going to hand you the biggest gains in the months ahead.
In fact, contrary to what most investors may think, the biggest gains in 2016 have actually come from the smallest companies in the S&P 500. Sorted by market capitalization, the smallest quintile of S&P components has actually been the best-performing segment of stocks this year, outperforming big blue chips by a factor of more than two-to-one since the calendar flipped to January.
That's some pretty meaningful outperformance from a segment of stocks that most investors aren't paying attention to.
To take advantage of that outperformance from the stocks most investors haven't event heard of before, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at five of them that are on the verge of breakout territory in October.
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 the list today is small-cap basic materials stock SunCoke Energy (SXC - Get Report) . SunCoke has actually already been a phenomenal performer year to date, more than doubling in 2016 thanks to a rebound in commodity prices. But don't worry if you've missed that upside in shares -- this small stock could still have some big gains ahead of it thanks to a bullish continuation setup that's been forming in SunCoke's chart.
SunCoke is currently forming an ascending triangle pattern, a continuation pattern that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares at $8, and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as SunCoke bounces in between that pair of technically important price levels, shares have been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout through our $8 price ceiling. When that happens, we've got our buy signal.
This stock's relative strength line, down at the bottom of its price chart, is the side-indicator to watch here. That's because relative strength, which measures SunCoke's price performance versus the broad market, has been in an uptrend of its own since shares initially broke out back in February, signaling that this stock is still outperforming the S&P even now. As long as that relative strength uptrend remains intact, SXC is likely to keep on beating the rest of the market. This is a long-term price setup, and that means that it comes with equally long-term trading implications once the breakout above $8 happens.
Shares are within striking distance of that breakout level this week.
Cadence Design Systems
We're seeing the exact same setup right now in shares of mid-cap tech company Cadence Design Systems (CDNS - Get Report) this week. Cadence may not have a whole lot in common with SunCoke Energy, but the price pattern in play here is almost identical. Cadence is currently forming an ascending triangle of its own, with a breakout level up at $26.25. Shares are flirting with that line in the sand this week.
It's important to remember that it's not magic that makes $26.25 a critical price level for Cadence. Instead, it all boils down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, like this ascending triangle setup in Cadence Design Systems, 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 CDNS' shares themselves.
The $26.25 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 $26.25 so significant - the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level. So, once shares crack $26.25, it's time to join the buyers again.
Billion-dollar paper and packaging stock Neenah Paper (NP - Get Report) may not carry the same household name status as some of its larger paper peers, but it's shown investors some much bigger gains in 2016 than the blue chip alternatives. Since the start of January, Neenah Paper has rallied 30% on a total returns basis, leaving the bigger paper companies in its dust.
And now, Neenah is showing investors a triangle pattern of a different sort this fall.
Neenah Paper has been forming a symmetrical triangle, a continuation pattern that's formed by a pair of converging trendlines. The buy signal comes on a push through that upper blue line on the chart, currently just above $81. Consolidation patterns like the symmetrical triangle are common after big moves like the one this stock started the year with. They give investors a chance to catch their breath and figure out their next step. Since NP started 2016 in an uptrend, it's statistically more likely to exit the price pattern to the upside too.
Meanwhile, the constricting action of Neenah Paper's symmetrical triangle is setting shares up for a volatility squeeze. Since volatility is cyclical, periods of very low volatility are typically followed up by a swing to high volatility. And as shares move into the tighter range of this pattern, the exit is likely to be fast. Keep a close eye on NP from here. You won't want to miss the breakout if and when it happens.
Even if you have zero experience deciphering technical price charts, you shouldn't have much trouble figuring out what's happening in shares of mid-cap cable service provider Cable One (CABO - Get Report) . Instead, the price action in this stock is about as simple as it gets. Cable One has been in a well-defined uptrend since shares bottomed back in February of this year, and it's still a "buy the dips stock" this fall.
Cable One's uptrend is formed by a pair of parallel trendlines that have corralled effectively all of the price action in shares stretching all the way back to those February lows. Put simply, every single test of the bottom of that price channel so far has provided investors with a low-risk, high-reward buying opportunity for shares of Cable One. So, as shares touch trendline support for the eighth time in as many months, it makes sense to buy the next bounce higher.
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 the bounce to happen first, you're ensuring Cable One can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
The 50-day moving average has been acting like a valid proxy for trendline support since April. That makes it a logical place to park a protective stop beneath if you decide to take the Cable One trade here...
Last, but certainly not least, on our list of less-known breakout opportunities is metals producer Allegheny Technologies (ATI - Get Report) . After an initial push higher at the start of 2016, Allegheny has been tracking sideways, effectively going nowhere since the end of the first quarter. But the most recent sideways grind in Allegheny is actually what's making it look tradable here...
Allegheny Technologies is currently forming an inverse head and shoulders pattern, a bullish reversal setup that signals exhaustion among sellers. The 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 Allegheny's neckline up at $18.50.
The price setup in Allegheny isn't exactly "textbook." By that, I mean the inverse head and shoulders pattern is usually a bullish reversal setup that comes at the bottom of a downtrend, not a continuation setup that shows up after some sideways movement. But while this stock's price action isn't textbook, it's tradable. If shares can crack $18.50, we've got a new buy signal in this little-know metals stock.