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Reading trend strength through patterns

There are patterns in market prices that can point to trading opportunities and potential profits. This is one of the fundamental assumptions of technical/tactical trading (and can be verified by quantitative and statistical analysis.) Most people are familiar with the idea of finding patterns to set up trades, but we can do much more if we use those patterns in different ways. In fact, a simple pattern can give us good insight into trend integrity and a very high level perspective on sentiment and market structure.

Some of the most useful trading patterns are variations of the pullback theme: trending markets move in alternating rounds of with-trend strength, interspersed with pullbacks or pauses against the trend, that then break into further trend legs. The simple schematic pattern looks something like this:

Pullbacks in a trending market.
Pullbacks in a trending market.

That’s the theory, and it works like that often enough that you can build a complete trading program around this simple concept. We can take it a bit further by considering the strength and character of the move out of the pullback. Yes, here we cross a line from what is clear and objective to something more subjective, but it’s an assessment that can be made with a little experience–weeks instead of months to learn the concept and months, not years, to have a very good grasp on it.

Take a look at the chart of the US Dollar index below. The Dollar index was in an uptrend for at least part of this chart, and I have marked points where the Dollar broke out of bullish consolidations with arrows. Consider the difference in character between spots marked with green and red arrows:

Pullbacks in the Dollar index. What can we learn from the moves out of the consolidations?
Pullbacks in the Dollar index. What can we learn from the moves out of the consolidations?

With one exception (marked “?”) the moves marked with green arrows had conviction; they quickly went to new highs, didn’t pause very much, and made new trend legs that consolidated at higher levels. When we get to the right of the chart (red arrows), the attempted moves up failed pretty quickly. This alerts us that something has changed in the market–character has changed, and maybe the market is entering a new regime.

Now, you might argue that this isn’t useful because it is only history; of course the market was going up on the right side, so consolidations broke to the upside, and then it stopped going up, so consolidations had trouble breaking out. This is obvious and is to be expected. You would be right to make that argument, but there is one more thing to consider: this is not only history because we can also make these assessments in real time. We can judge the character of these breakouts and compare them against our mental map of what “should be” happening if the trend is intact. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s also real and is an element of market analysis that can easily be learned.

So, give this a try. Pick a market you follow closely, and start watching the right edge of the chart. (Don’t bother to go back and look at history because that is easy. This is an exercise that must be done as it unfolds.) When the market makes a pause or consolidation against the trend, watch the character of the move out of the consolidation. Compare it to previous moves, and think about what you should see if the trend is strong and intact. Spend a few weeks watching the market with this idea in mind–the subtle shift in attention to assessing the character of the extension out of the pullback is what will make the difference. In a few weeks, you may see the market with new eyes.


Adam Grimes has over two decades of experience in the industry as a trader, analyst and system developer. The author of a best-selling trading book, he has traded for his own account, for a top prop firm, and spent several years at the New York Mercantile Exchange. He focuses on the intersection of quantitative analysis and discretionary trading, and has a talent for teaching and helping traders find their own way in the market.
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