March 20th, 2013

Rocket or Breakout? What say you?

imageThe second most difficult challenge (after auguring the market’s future near-term direction) is to select the best stocks into which to put some money to work so as to maximize potential returns while keeping risk of loss acceptable.  Most of the time, whenever you hear or read a comparison between two stocks, “talking heads” like Jim Cramer usually  throw out such slogans as “buy best of breed” as the guide in making your choice.  However, although “best of breed” is subjective and is boiled down fundamental factors like sales and earnings growth, great management or higher profit margins.  Seldom does Technical factors such as stock volatility, institutional support or relative strength seldom enter a “best of breed” discussion.

For example, on January 26, 2012, Cramer’s theStreet.com had a piece on XLB, the basic materials ETF in which they claimed that “DuPont Company (DD) is the undisputed king of basic materials. From the 2009 rally, DuPont was the top performing Dow component.”  However, PPG (PPG) wasn’t mentioned at all.  PPG represented only 4% of the ETF as compared with DD’s nearly 10%.  But which was actually the better stock to have bought more than a year ago.  A comparison of the two shows that PPG actually appreciated 58% while DD declined nearly -3% (click on images to enlarge).

PPG - 20130319DD - 20130319 I’m now sitting on some cash trying to figure out if I should redeploy it in yesterday’s momentum stock leaders (who are still advancing nicely) or taking a gamble on stocks that have great charts and look like they may soon breakout and become tomorrow’s leaders.

In technically-based comparison like these, IBD’s rule is to only buy stocks that are within a few percentage points above what IBD labels their “buy point”, those breakouts or crosses above resistance trendlines which are top boundaries of a variety of chart patterns such as inverted hear-and-shoulders, ascending triangles or IBD’s cups-and-handles.  This comparison might match up LKQ (automotive parts), a stock that’s advance 370% since 2009 in a near straight shot and, perhaps, may continue to advance higher against, for example, Williams-Sonoma (retail home furnishings).

LKQ - 20130320WSM - 20130320

Putting aside fundamentals and basing the investment choice strictly on a technical basis, the choice rests on how one evaluates two factors:

  • Trading off the risk one perceives in buying a stock continuing to advance after having nearly doubled in each of the past four years vs. the risk that a stock will continue to languish for continued economic sluggishness.
  • How important the psychic reward might be for you to have found a new “high flyer” before others vs. piggybacking on a winner that others continually discovered over the past four years.

I’ve always tended to chose the breakout but what say you?  Would you catch the tail of a comet like LKQ or get on what you hope might be a future rocket?  And why?

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February 16th, 2012

Parallel trendlines for positioning targets

There are those who follow Bob Prechter, one of the strong proponents of the Elliott Wave principles have their ways of identifying price level targets.  And then there’s the crowd who hide out at Slope of Hope, the place where perma-bears can always find a reason for an impending correction or “much welcomed” bear market crash through targets derived by their overly precise application of arcane Fibonacci mathematics.  But I’ve always found a rather simple approach to projecting out potential targets by applying a resistance trendline parallel to the corresponding supporting trendline and thereby creating a channel.

Take for example XHB, the homebuilders ETF.First, you should note how reversal and consolidation patterns easily morph from one form to another without a general market tailwind.  Until last summer’s meltdown due to the domestic budget and European sovereign debt crises, it looked as if XHB would break out the upside of a symmetrical triangle.  Since last summer’s 30% decline, it now appears that pattern has morphed into an ascending triangle and, with cooperation of a more constructive general market backdrop and expectations for finally an improved housing market, that upside breakout might now be at hand.

If break out does materialize, the next question is what might be a reasonable target for the move higher?  Consider a parallel line as on benchmark:

Parallel lines are simplistic and anything but elegant but they usually work.  They definite position a target for one’s expectations.  They won’t let your dreams run wildly out of control and add a time dimension to a price expectations.

Reality never really works so perfectly but, if the market and XHB dramatically diverges from this trajectory then we can make mid-course adjustments when and to the degree necessary.

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