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Technical Analysis Tutorial: Chart Patterns (Continuation)

In this article we’re going to have a look at continuation patterns. These are in contrast to the reversal patterns we’ve already treated in a previous blog post here. My main source is the comprehensive Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets by John J. Murphy (purchase here in association with FuturesTechs).

As the name suggests, continuation patterns imply that the prevailing trend will be maintained, not reversed. They occur as relatively short phases of consolidation or uncertainty within a longer-term trend.

We’ll start by looking at triangles. These come in three varieties: symmetrical, ascending and descending.

The symmetrical triangle occurs in the situation when we can draw trendlines above and below the price action (connecting at least two, and preferably three points for each line). Its forecasting implication depends on the prior trend. Here’s an example during a major rally in Corn in 1996:

The prevailing uptrend ran into a little bit of resistance. We dropped back, proceeded to find some support, and then created a lower high and a higher low. This narrowing consolidation was resolved to the upside with a clean break through the down-sloping trendline, when the uptrend continued strongly. The pattern is complete and the prior trend has resumed.

Next up is the ascending triangle. This is when we have a flat trendline at the top of the pattern, but a rising trendline at the bottom. It shows that demand is getting firmer, causing shorter pull-backs, but with the same resistance level being tested at the top of the pattern. So buyers are gaining in strength sufficiently to produce higher lows, but sellers are failing to do likewise by producing lower highs.

This is psychologically bullish and thus gives the positive forecastings implications for the pattern. We generally see this pattern during bull markets, and expect it to be resolved to the upside. Here’s an ascending triangle for BAY:

Now let’s look at the descending triangle. As you might imagine, we’ve got a descending upper line and a flat lower line with this one, and bearish forecasting implications. We see it in a downtrend, and we expect the trend to be maintained, just as we should have with TWOD:

There are measuring targets with all of these, which are simple to calculate: find the vertical distance between the lines at the first high or low being used for a trendline (this is the length of the base) and project that distance up or down from the breakout point.

Note that none of the forecasting implications described here are cast-iron certainties, merely tendencies. Sometimes, a triangle will turn out to be a reversal and not a continuation pattern. We are only ever dealing in probabilities when we try to forecast using price patterns.

Next, let’s look at the flag. We’ll look at an example which occurred during a downtrend in Natural Gas:

The flag is generally a shorter-term pattern than the ones we’ve already mentioned. It is really just a “blip” within a long-term bull or bear market, when the price briefly trades in the opposite direction to the prevailing trend. In the above bear market, then, we see a series of sessions when the price showed a bit of strength. We get parallel trendlines above and below the price, and the pattern was resolved when we were seen conclusively through one of the lines (this should be the lower line in a bear market, or the upper line in a bull market).

Here’s a flag visible on the 180-minute chart of a bull market in Copper:

Finally, let’s look at the pennant, a closely related pattern.

This could be possibly be described as a “small symmetrical triangle”. Like the flag, it appears as a short period when the prevailing trend loses its vigour. However, instead of seeing highs and lows in an opposite direction to that prevailing trend, we see the range narrow with higher lows and lower highs. Here’s an example in the CAC:

Flags and pennants should occur during a strong up or down move, and these patterns should just be a minor pause in that move. One method of projecting targets is to measure the length of the prior move and to project that far from the breakout point (i.e. assuming that the pattern happened roughly halfway along a bull or bear run).

As far as volume considerations for all of these patterns are concerned, the general principle is that volume goes with the major trends: that means it should initially be at normal levels for bulls or bear markets, calm down as the market consolidates, and than increase again when the pattern is resolved. Within the pattern, we would be encouraged to see the volume relatively larger during the small movements aligned with the major trend.

That rounds up our discussion of continuation patterns. None of them are fool-proof, but they can help to map out short term corrections and sideways movements. For more detail, and for other patterns, I recommend Murphy’s book.

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Graham Neary MSTA (graham@futurestechs.co.uk)

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