Methods to Establish Support and Resistance


Trading Range

Trading ranges can play an important role in determining support and resistance as turning points or as continuation patterns. A trading range is a period of time when prices move within a relatively tight range. This signals that the forces of supply and demand are evenly balanced. When the price breaks out of the trading range, above or below, it signals that a winner has emerged. A break above is a victory for the bulls (demand) and a break below is a victory for the bears (supply).

After an extended advance from 27 to 64, WorldCom (WCOM) entered into a trading range between 55 and 63 for about 5 months. There was a false breakout in mid-June when the stock briefly poked its head above 62 (red oval). This did not last long and a gap down a few days later nullified the breakout (black arrow). The stock then proceeded to break support at 55 in Aug-99 and trade as low as 50. Here is another example of support turned resistance as the stock bounced off 55 two more times before heading lower. While this does not always happen, a return to the new resistance level offers a second chance for longs to get out and shorts to enter the fray.

In Nov/Dec-99, Lucent Technologies (LU) formed a trading range that resembled a head and shoulders pattern (red oval). When the stock broke support at 60, there was little or no time to exit. Even though the there is a long black candlestick indicating an open at 59, the stock fell so fast that it was impossible to exit above 44. In hindsight, the support line could have been drawn as an upward sloping neckline (blue line), and the support break would have come at 61. This is only 1 point higher and a trader would have had to take action immediately to avoid a sharp fall. However, the lows match up rather nicely on the neckline, and it is something to consider when drawing support lines.

After Lucent declined, a trading range was established between 40.5 and 47.5 for almost two months (green oval). The resistance level of the trading range was well marked by three reaction peaks at 47.5. The support level was not as clearly marked, but appeared to be between 40 and 41. Some buying interest began to become evident around 44 in mid- to late-February. Notice the array of candlesticks with long lower shadows, or hammers, as they are known. The stock then proceeded to form two up gaps on 24-Feb and 25-Feb, and finally closed above resistance at 48. This was a clear indication of demand winning out over supply. There were still two more opportunities (days) to get in on the action. On the third day after the breakout, the stock gapped up and moved above 56.

Support and Resistance Zones

Because technical analysis is not an exact science, it is useful to create support and resistance zones. This is contrary to the strategy mapped out for Lucent Technologies (LU), but it is sometimes the case. Each security has its own characteristics, and analysis should reflect the intricacies of the security. Sometimes, exact support and resistance levels are best, and, sometimes, zones work better. Generally, the tighter the range, the more exact the level. If the trading range spans less than 2 months and the price range is relatively tight, then more exact support and resistance levels are best suited. If a trading range spans many months and the price range is relatively large, then it is best to use support and resistance zones. These are only meant as general guidelines, and each trading range should be judged on its own merits.

Returning to the analysis of Halliburton (HAL), we can see that the November high of the trading range (33 to 44) extended more than 20% past the low, making the range quite large relative to the price. Because the September support break forms our first resistance level, we are ready to set up a resistance zone after the November high is formed, probably around early December. At this point though, we are still unsure if a large trading range will develop. The subsequent low in December, which was just higher than the October low, offers evidence that a trading range is forming, and we are ready to set the support zone. As long as the stock trades within the boundaries set by the support and resistance zone, we will consider the trading range to be valid. Support may be looked upon as an opportunity to buy, and resistance as an opportunity to sell.

Identification of key support and resistance levels is an essential ingredient to successful technical analysis. Even though it is sometimes difficult to establish exact support and resistance levels, being aware of their existence and location can greatly enhance analysis and forecasting abilities. If a security is approaching an important support level, it can serve as an alert to be extra vigilant in looking for signs of increased buying pressure and a potential reversal. If a security is approaching a resistance level, it can act as an alert to look for signs of increased selling pressure and potential reversal. If a support or resistance level is broken, it signals that the relationship between supply and demand has changed. A resistance breakout signals that demand (bulls) has gained the upper hand and a support break signals that supply (bears) has won the battle.