After hemming and hawing within a couple percentage points of the 20,000 level for the last month and change, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finally managed to close above the mark over which Wall Street has been so busy obsessing. While that milestone means that 2017 is kicking off with a not-so-staggering 1.65% gain year to date, the real story is what's happening in individual stocks.
That's because while the big market averages edge ever higher, some of the biggest stocks in your portfolio are teetering on the verge of significant breakouts right now. To figure out which big stocks you should own in 2017, we're turning to the charts for a technical look at five that are breaking higher following the Dow's move through 20k Wednesday -- 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. 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.
Leading off the list is automaker General Motors (GM - Get Report) . GM has been a stellar performer in recent months, rallying more than 20% higher since November on hopes that President Trump's administration will give U.S.-based car companies a competitive advantage in the world's biggest market for automobiles. But it's the price chart, not the macro story, that makes GM worth buying right now.
This automaker's price action is signaling a potential second leg higher starting in January.
For the last month and change, GM has been forming a textbook example of an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish continuation pattern that's formed by horizontal resistance up above shares at $38 and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as GM pinballs in between those two technically-important price levels, this stock has been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout through that $38 price ceiling. We got our buy signal with yesterday's close at $38.28.
Relative strength, the indicator down at the bottom of GM's chart, adds some extra upside confidence to this trade right now. That's because our relative strength line has been in an uptrend since shares bottomed back in July, signaling that General Motors is outperforming the rest of the market. As long as that relative strength uptrend stays intact, GM remains statistically more likely than not to outperform. If you decide to buy it here, it makes sense to park a protective stop on the other side of the 50-day moving average.
We're seeing the same price pattern in shares of athletic apparel giant Nike (NKE - Get Report) , but with two exceptions: Nike's price pattern is of a shorter term, and it hasn't broken out yet. Nike has been working its way higher since November as well, adding about 10% to its price tag since the start of that month. An ascending triangle that started forming in January is the breakout pattern to watch in the next few sessions.
For Nike, the buy signal comes on a push up through $54.
What makes that $54 level so important for this stock? It all boils down to buyers and sellers. Price patterns, like this ascending triangle setup, are a good quick way to identify what's going on in the price action, but they're not the ultimate reason shares look attractive here. Instead, the "why" is driven by basic supply and demand for Nike's shares themselves.
The $54 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 $54 so significant - the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level. Shares ended yesterday within grabbing distance of $54. Keep a close eye on this stock from here.
The $93 billion pharma firm GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK - Get Report) may not look like a particularly attractive stock right now -- shares of this health care giant have lost about 15% of their market value since August, underperforming the S&P 500 in a big way. But that could be about to change, and GSK could be about to make up for lost time. Here's why.
Glaxo has spent the last few months forming a classic technical price setup called a "cup and handle". The cup and handle is formed by a cup-shaped rounding bottom in shares that's followed up by a short-duration channel down. The buy signal comes on a move through the pattern's price ceiling which comes in at $39.75 in this case. That price level has been acting as resistance since November, swatting shares lower on the last couple of meaningful attempts through it - if GSK can break above $39.75, we've got a new buy signal in this stock.
Remember to be reactionary with the GSK trade - or with any of the other stocks on our list today, for that matter. Technical analysis is a risk management tool, not a crystal ball, and that means that GSK doesn't actually trigger a high-probability buy signal until shares are able to catch a bid above $39.75. Don't try to buy ahead of the breakout.
Meanwhile, shares of tech giant Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) are showing off a pretty straightforward price setup right now. Microsoft has been rallying since last summer, up about 30% from its late-June lows. Six months later, this is still a "buy the dips stock" in 2017 -- and we're seeing a buyable dip this week.
Microsoft has been in a well-defined uptrending channel, a price pattern that's about as simple as they get. The uptrend is formed by a pair of parallel trendlines that have corralled most of this stock's price action stretching back over the last 12 months. So far, every test of the bottom of the channel at trendline support has provided investors with a low-risk buying opportunity before Microsoft's next up-leg. Shares are bouncing off of support for a seventh time this week...
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 the bounce to happen first, you're ensuring Microsoft can actually still catch a bid along that line before you put your money on shares.
Last on our list of bullish technical trades is $190 billion pharmaceutical stock Novartis (NVS - Get Report) . Novartis' chart looks a lot like the one we looked at earlier in GlaxoSmithKline -- both pharma stocks have been carving out bottoms after prolonged corrections that started last summer. The difference here is the specific price setup that's showing up on Novartis' chart.
Novartis has been 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 gets triggered on a move through Novartis' neckline at $74.Price momentum, measured by 14-day RSI, is the side-indicator to look at in Novartis. Our momentum gauge has made a series of higher lows during this stock's inverse head and shoulders setup, a bullish divergence that indicates buyers are stepping in behind the scenes. Still, price is primary. Wait for Novartis to push through $74 before you buy it.