I want to point out three charts that I've been monitoring. Each chart points out a separate staple of technical analysis. Yet, at the same time, they all illustrate the use of a stop loss and how you can identify where to place your stop on your holdings.
1. Support/Resistance. These are areas on the chart where you can visibly see a stock either having trouble breaking through at, or finding support at. These are visual representations of the price action in the underlying stock. In this specific example, I want to focus on how you can use support/resistance to your advantage in terms of either placing stop losses or price targets. In this case, US Bancorp (NYSE:USB) was considered to be a conservative bank. However, since it is still a bank, it is still a good house, in a bad neighborhood.
The dividend is nice and all, but the chart gave me a clear signal after it could not find support at a level of past support.As a result, I placed my stoploss right below this area of support. So, if the support failed to hold, I knew the stock would be headed lower and I would need to get out. And, that's exactly how it played out. On the chart, you can see a strong area of past support around $28. So, I placed my stop below that and got stopped out accordingly once it broke down past support. This stop loss saved me from the ensuing 25% drop USB experienced.
This is the perfect example as to why you should have a stoploss on all your holdings. (For those who are curious, I was only in USB to begin with because I was employing a buy-write strategy. It has a solid dividend, so I was pocketing the dividend (5%+) and then writing covered calls on the name every month to pocket more money since the stock essentially traded sideways for a long time).
click to enlarge
2. Trendline. MasterCard (NYSE:MA) is sitting on a longer term support line right now. Once again, the quote of the week has been "The trend is your friend." Once the trend ends, get the hell out. So, take all the lows of the trend and connect the dots making your trendline. If the stock breaks below the trendline, it is most likely going lower and you need to get out. Place your stop loss accordingly. For instance, in MA, I would be buying this dip as it is on longer term support from the trendline. Secondly, it has filled the gap (but that's a whole other topic). Then, place your stop just below the trendline. If it breaks, it's going lower. For the graph below, focus on the green trend line, I've drawn in.
click to enlarge
3. Head and Shoulders Pattern. This pattern pops up all over charts all the time. In addition, if you can spot it, you can benefit from it, as this pattern is typically bearish. For this example, I want to focus on Suncor (NYSE:SU). I'm actually very bullish on this name for the long term. However, for now, I'm using the technical analysis to my advantage. I've spotted a head and shoulders in this name and it could potentially trade much lower (especially if oil prices continue their decline).
I've highlighted the two shoulders and the head with green circles. As you can see, the head is the peak of the formation and the shoulders are on either side, at the same price level. Then, the bottom of the formation is accompanied by a 'neckline' where the two shoulders form their bases.For SU, this neckline is at $55 and is the make of break point.
This level represents support as the stock has previously bounced twice at that level. Therefore, if it breaks the level to the downside, the stock could trade much lower. Now, for all intensive purposes, this stock could just continue to trade higher and not complete the H+S pattern. However, the point is that once you identify the neckline, you've identified your stop loss. For SU, you'd place a stop loss below $55 and call it good. You can get short anywhere below that level.
Alternatively, if SU holds that level, then you can get long. For now, the pattern is an *anticipatory* head and shoulders. It hasn't actually completed the pattern so I am technically jumping the gun here. If it trades down to $55 and then breaks the neckline, then it will be complete. Again, for all I know, this name could continue to march higher. But, it's just something good to consider when managing your holdings. Also, note that this chart makes uses of support/resistance as well (the neckline).
click to enlarge