If it feels like Mr. Market is dragging sideways this spring, you're just looking at the wrong stocks...
That's because, despite a relatively quiet stretch since the S&P 500 peaked back in March, a material chunk of this market is having a banner year in 2017. As I write, approximately 32% of S&P components are already up 10% or more since the start of the year - that's about a third of the stocks in the big index that are sitting on double digit gains year-to-date.
And the good news is that they're just getting started. As we press on in April, some of the biggest stocks on the market are teetering on the edge of breakout territory right now.
To figure out which ones to buy - and when to buy them - we're turning to the charts for a technical look at four mega-cap breakouts that are about to rip higher this spring...
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 four big stocks to trade...
Up first on the list is $65 billion consumer products giant Colgate-Palmolive Co. (CL) . Colgate has been a strong performer in 2017, up more than 12% since the beginning of the year. And shares are pointing to a second leg higher in the month ahead.
Colgate has spent the last two months forming a textbook example of an ascending triangle pattern, a bullish continuation setup that signals the potential for higher ground ahead. The pattern is formed by horizontal resistance up above shares at $74, and uptrending support to the downside. Basically, as Colgate pinballs between those two technically significant price levels, shares have been getting squeezed closer and closer to a breakout through that $74 price ceiling. When that happens, we've got a buy signal.
Relative strength, measured by the indicator down at the bottom of Colgate's price chart, adds some extra confidence to upside in shares. That's because Colgate's relative strength line has been in an uptrend of its own since the end of January, an indication that this stock isn't just beating the rest of the sector - it's still beating the rest of the broad market in the long-run. As long as that uptrend in relative strength stays intact, CL is predisposed to outperform in 2017.
Adobe Systems Inc.
$64 billion software stock Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE) has been another notable leader in 2017 - shares are up 26.5% since the start of the year, making it one of the top-20 stocks in the S&P by performance. And, just like Colgate, an ascending triangle pattern is signaling a potential next leg higher in Adobe. For ADBE, the price level to watch is $130.50.
What makes $130.50 the decisive price level for Adobe? 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 ADBE's shares themselves.
The $130.50 resistance level is a price where there is an excess of supply of shares; in other words, it's a spot where sellers had previously been more eager to step in and take gains than buyers have been to buy. That's what makes a breakout above $130.50 so significant - the move means that buyers are finally strong enough to absorb all of the excess supply above that price level. Keep a close eye on Adobe here -- shares are within grabbing distance of that key level as I write...
Keeping things in the tech sector for a moment brings us to Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) . This $502 billion tech giant has more or less just kept pace with the broad market this year, but the stage is set for something more substantial in the weeks ahead. Simply put, Microsoft has been a "buy the dips stock" since the end of last summer, and it's showing traders another buyable dip this week...
The good news is that you don't need to be an expert technical trader to decipher this chart; the price action in Microsoft is about as simple as it gets.
Microsoft's uptrend is formed by a pair of parallel trendline levels that define the high-probability range for shares to stay stuck between. Put simply, every test of the bottom of that price range so far has provided a low-risk, high-reward buying opportunity in Microsoft - so as shares test that trendline for the sixth time here, it makes sense to buy on the next bounce higher.
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.
Coffee chain Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) has been lacking some serious "pep" in recent months - since peaking back in mid-December, shares have sawed sideways, grinding away in a wide range without making any progress. But that's finally changing. Starbucks has been carving out a reversal that could send shares to new highs in the sessions ahead.
This stock's chart may not be pretty, but it's tradable...
The price setup in play in Starbucks right now is a rounding bottom, a bullish trading setup that looks just like it sounds. The pattern signals a shift in control of shares from sellers to buyers, and it triggers a buy when shares are able to muster the strength to break through the resistance level that defines the top of the pattern. For Starbucks, that's the $59 price ceiling that first showed up in December.
Shares closed just above $59 in yesterday's session, but we'll want to see some continuation today for the move to be confirmed. Once that happens, the most recent swing low at $57.50 is a logical place to park a protective stop.