November 29th, 2012

Head-and-Shoulders Patterns: FDX Case Study

The key point in yesterday’s discussion of the GLD and AAPL head-and-shoulders patterns can be summed up in the post’s last paragraph:

“……. no matter how good these chart patterns may look a year from now, unless and until they cross their necklines, there’s no certainty today that they won’t fail to deliver.  While getting in early will produce a greater return, the trade entails significant risk that the stock actually winds up moving in the opposite direction.”

The point perhaps not made emphatically enough is that even though head-and-shoulders stock chart patterns appears on the surface to be similar to the results of a series of random coin tosses there is a major difference between the two should the price/value cross the neckline.  The result of coin tosses merrily continues on a random path, the path in the prices/values in stocks, indexes and commodities subsequent to a cross of the neckline usually becomes impacted by a feedback loop know as “momentum”.

When they see new highs or lows being set as the price/value crosses the neckline, investors expect, even anticipate, a continuation of the prevailing trend.  That predisposition causes them to place trades (either buy if a cross above or sell if a cross below the neckline) in anticipation of being able to close those positions some time in the future at a profit.  Coin tosses have no connection with the future but investors do.

The trading rule, therefore, is that investors should wait to commit to their prospective position until momentum is launched and the signal in the form of a neckline cross is evident.  [This presumes that a neckline is something obvious and concrete but that's the topic for the next post.]

Let’s look at another example of that trading rule.  One advisory service recently substantiated their large position in FDX (Federal Express) by arguing that FDX was restructuring their operations so that their Express division is “refined” and their Ground operation “will lead to better margins and more market-share take against UPS.”  Somebody has to perform good fundamental analysis but it’s not clear whether individual investors are equipped or has the time to uncover and evaluate such information.  Large institutional investors (what I call “the heard”) do and what we can do is to follow their footprints in their hunt for big game.

If only a small percentage of the herd know or arrive at the same conclusion as the above the FDX analysis then price action in FDX shares will not be impacted dramatically.  If the analysis is correct and is reflected in operating results, the rest of the herd will join the chase and price momentum will begin.  If its efforts, the FDX shares will languish at best and fall at worst.  I would want to buy the shares only after, and not before, sufficient numbers of investors begin to believe in the FDX transformation and the shares begin to rise.

FDX stock has been restrained from continuing its uptrend by a resistance trendline (“neckline”) for over 5 years.  It isn’t relevant to the trading strategy whether you envision an emerging inverted head-and-shoulder pattern (square 1) or the longer-term ascending triangle (square 2).  To believe the story, you have to “show me the money”. You need to see the shares cross above the resistance trendline (the “neckline”) to have confidence that the uptrend momentum is sufficiently sustainable before foregoing other opportunities and putting your good money into FDX stock.  As my slogan says, “fundamental analysis is subjective, momentum is a fact.”

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