One ETF we have been watching closely for potential swing trade entry in recent weeks is PowerShares QQQ Trust ($QQQ), a popular ETF proxy for the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index. Specifically, we have been monitoring a bearish head and shoulders pattern that has been developing on the weekly chart interval of $QQQ.
If this bearish chart pattern starts following through to the downside, it may create a low-risk entry point for short selling $QQQ (or buying a short ETF such as $PSQ or $QID). In this article, we walk you through the details of this technical trade setup for $QQQ, and present you with the most ideal scenario for actionable trade entry. For starters, check out the annotated weekly chart pattern of $QQQ below:
When determining the validity of a head and shoulders pattern, there are a few factors we look for to determine whether or not this bearish pattern is likely to follow through to the downside.
One of the biggest technical considerations is the trend of the volume that accompanied the price. The best head and shoulders patterns will be marked by higher volume on the left shoulder and lighter volume on the right shoulder. Such a pattern indicates decreasing buying interest as the pattern progresses. As you can see by the 10-week moving average of volume (the pink line on the volume bars above), volume has indeed been declining during the formation of the right shoulder.
Another element we look for is whether the neckline is perfectly horizontal, ascending, or descending. The neckline on the $QQQ chart above is ascending, which means a "higher low" was formed. This ascending neckline slightly decreases the odds of the head and shoulders following through by breaking below the neckline. Nevertheless, between the two technical elements of the volume trend and angle of the neckline, volume is considered a more significant factor in determining whether or not the price is likely to move lower after the right shoulder has formed.
Since it's always best to assess a potential swing trade setup on multiple chart time frames, let's zoom into the rather interesting, shorter-term daily chart interval of $QQQ:
Just as the "line in the sand" for price support of $SPY is last week's low, the same is true of $QQQ, but even more so.
Notice how support of last week's low in $QQQ neatly converges with both the 50-day moving average (teal line) AND the intermediate-term uptrend line from the November 2012 low (red line). The more technical indicators that converge in one area to form price support, the more substantial and pivotal that support level becomes. As such, be sure to monitor the $67.60 area very closely in the coming days, as a convincing breakdown below that level could be the impetus that sends $QQQ on its way down to testing the neckline of its head and shoulders pattern.
Despite the convincing head and shoulders pattern of $QQQ, it is important to keep the following two things in mind:
First, due in no small part to recent weakness in heavily-weighted Apple Computer ($AAPL), the Nasdaq has been a laggard throughout the multi-month rally in the broad market. Rather, the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average has been leading, and that index still remains very near its multi-year highs. In a fractured market with significant divergence between the major indices, clear follow-through in either direction usually does not come easily.
The second (and more important) point is that the head and shoulders pattern, like all technical chart patterns, obviously does NOT work 100% of the time. In fact, far from it. This means that blindly selling short $QQQ (or buying an inversely correlated "short ETF") at the current price level of $QQQ is risky and not advisable.
Instead of entering this swing trade setup based purely on anticipation of the pattern working, our technical trading system mandates that we first wait for price confirmation that indicates momentum has shifted back in favor of the bears. At a minimum, we would NOT enter a short position unless/until $QQQ breaks down below last week's low, which we now know is a key level of price support. Jumping the gun by trying to get an "early" entry point is never advisable in swing trading.
As always, we will give regular subscribers of The Wagner Daily stock picking newsletter a heads-up in advance if/when $QQQ gets added to our "official" watchlist for short/inverse ETF swing trade entry.
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