Charts Patterns

Flags and Pennants (Chart Pattern Analysis)

Heikin Ashi

Flags and Pennants are short-term continuation patterns that mark a small consolidation before the previous move resumes. These patterns are usually preceded by a sharp advance or decline with heavy volume, and mark a midpoint of the move.

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  1. Sharp Move: To be considered a continuation pattern, there should be evidence of a prior trend. Flags and pennants require evidence of a sharp advance or decline on heavy volume. These moves usually occur on heavy volume and can contain gaps. This move usually represents the first leg of a significant advance or decline and the flag/pennant is merely a pause.
  2. Flagpole: The flagpole is the distance from the first resistance or support break to the high or low of the flag/pennant. The sharp advance (or decline) that forms the flagpole should break a trendline or resistance/support level. A line extending up from this break to the high of the flag/pennant forms the flagpole.
  3. Flag: A flag is a small rectangle pattern that slopes against the previous trend. If the previous move was up, then the flag would slope down. If the move was down, then the flag would slope up. Because flags are usually too short in duration to actually have reaction highs and lows, the price action just needs to be contained within two parallel trendlines.
  4. Pennant: A pennant is a small symmetrical triangle that begins wide and converges as the pattern matures (like a cone). The slope is usually neutral. Sometimes there will not be specific reaction highs and lows from which to draw the trendlines and the price action should just be contained within the converging trendlines.
  5. Duration: Flags and pennants are short-term patterns that can last from 1 to 12 weeks. There is some debate on the timeframe and some consider 8 weeks to be pushing the limits for a reliable pattern. Ideally, these patterns will form between 1 and 4 weeks. Once a flag becomes more than 12 weeks old, it would be classified as a rectangle. A pennant more than 12 weeks old would turn into a symmetrical triangle. The reliability of patterns that fall between 8 and 12 weeks is debatable.
  6. Break: For a bullish flag or pennant, a break above resistance signals that the previous advance has resumed. For a bearish flag or pennant, a break below support signals that the previous decline has resumed.
  7. Volume: Volume should be heavy during the advance or decline that forms the flagpole. Heavy volume provides legitimacy for the sudden and sharp move that creates the flagpole. An expansion of volume on the resistance (support) break lends credence to the validity of the formation and the likelihood of continuation.
  8. Targets: The length of the flagpole can be applied to the resistance break or support break of the flag/pennant to estimate the advance or decline.

Even though flags and pennants are common formations, identification guidelines should not be taken lightly. It is important that flags and pennants are preceded by a sharp advance or decline. Without a sharp move, the reliability of the formation becomes questionable and trading could carry added risk. Look for volume confirmation on the initial move, consolidation and resumption to augment the robustness of pattern identification.

Bull Flag Patterns (Continuation Pattern)

Bull flag is a sharp, strong volume rally on a positive fundamental development, several days of sideways to lower price action on much weaker volume followed by a second, sharp rally to new highs on strong volume.

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The technical target is derived by adding the height of the flag pole to the eventual breakout level at point (e).

  • Bull flag formations involve two distinct parts, a near vertical, high volume flag pole and a parallel, low volume consolidation comprised of four points and an upside breakout.
  • The actual flag formation of a bull flag pattern must be less than 20 trading sessions in duration.
  • Most flag patterns occur at the middle of the larger move higher for a stock.
  • Upside breakouts often lead to small 2-3% rallies followed by an immediate test of the breakout level.

If the stock closes below this level (now support) for any reason the pattern becomes invalid.

Bulls flags are favored among technical traders because they almost always lead to large and predicable price moves. Like all continuation patterns, bull flags represent little more than a brief lull in a larger move higher. Indeed, in many cases the flag pattern will actually take shape in the middle of the ultimate move higher. Bull flags occur because stocks rarely move higher in a straight line for an extended period, instead, the move higher is broken up by brief periods where traders “catch their breath”.

The first part of the flag pattern is often called the flagpole or mast. During this phase the stock price skyrockets to a reaction high (a) on some positive fundamental development. Very often this will be the unveiling of a new product, a favorable legal resolution or positive earnings surprise but the change in price is near vertical as would be sellers are overwhelmed by new buyers caught-up in the euphoria of the moment. As the stock soars speculators that were smart enough to have purchased the stock at lower levels begin selling.

At this point the second phase or flag portion of the bull flag begins. Because the flow of news and investor sentiment is overwhelming positive, most of the stock sold by speculators is easily absorbed in the beginning but as time passes fewer investors seem willing to pay the current price. Slowly, the stock price begins to falter on dramatically reduced volume. The descent is slow because bullish sentiment is still very strong.

After several days of minor weakness, a rally begins and a minor low is set (b). Sensing an opportune time to enter new positions buyers begin to return, pushing the stock very near the most recent high but because volume is light this rally is easily rebuffed and a slightly lower high (c) is established before the price turns lower. The new round of selling sends the stock modestly lower on reduced volume. After several more sessions the stock moves below the lows made at point (a) but volume contracts further. Just as it begins to look as though a real decline is underway there is a new positive fundamental development and the stock begins to move higher (d). As the rally accelerates volume increases dramatically, buyers overwhelm those taking profits. Over the next 1-2 sessions the stock moves through the high set at point (c) and volume surges further. This triggers an upside breakout point (e). The next session several Wall Street firms either make new “buy” recommendations or reiterate existing recommendations. The stock opens higher and goes on to make significant new highs in the weeks ahead.

Bullish Pennant (Continuation Pattern)

Bullish pennant is a sharp, strong volume rally on a positive fundamental development, several days of narrowing price consolidation on much weaker volume followed by a second, sharp rally to new highs on strong volume.

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The technical target for a bull flag pattern is derived by adding the height of the flag pole or point (a) to the eventual breakout level at point (e).

  • Bullish pennants involve two distinct parts, a near vertical, high volume flag pole and a symmetrical, low volume triangular consolidation comprised of four points and an upside breakout.
  • The triangular consolidation during the formation of the pennant is very much like a symmetrical triangle and this implies that traders feel comfortable with the current price.
  • The actual pennant formation of a bullish pennant pattern must be less than 20 trading sessions in duration
  • Most bullish pennant patterns occur at the middle of the larger move higher for a stock.
  • Upside breakouts often lead to small 2-3% rallies followed by an immediate test of the breakout level. If the stock closes below this level (now support) for any reason the pattern becomes invalid

Bullish pennants are very close cousins to bull flags, in fact, there is only one major difference, the consolidation after the flag pole is triangular (pennant-shaped) as opposed to being parallel (flag-shaped). Like flags, pennants are favored among technical traders because they almost always lead to large and predicable price moves. Finally, like flags, pennants usually take shape at the mid point of a major move higher.

The first part of the pennant pattern is often called the flagpole or mast. During this phase the stock price skyrockets to a reaction high (a) on some positive fundamental development. Very often this will be the unveiling of a new product, a favorable legal resolution or a positive earnings surprise but the change in price is near vertical as would be sellers are overwhelmed by new buyers caught-up in the euphoria of the moment. As the stock soars speculators that were smart enough to have purchased the stock at lower levels begin selling.

At this point the second phase or pennant portion of the pattern begins. Because the flow of news and investor sentiment is overwhelming positive, most of the stock sold by speculators is easily absorbed in the beginning but as time passes fewer investors seem willing to pay the current price. Slowly, the stock price begins to falter on dramatically reduced volume. The descent is slow because bullish sentiment is still very strong and after several days of minor weakness, a brief rally begins and a minor low is set (b).

Sensing an opportune time to enter new positions buyers begin to return, pushing the stock very near the most recent high but because volume is light this rally is easily rebuffed and a slightly lower high (c) is established before the price turns lower. The new round of selling sends the stock modestly lower on reduced volume. After several more sessions the stock approaches the lows made at point (a) but volume expands and a higher low is set at point (d). This higher low establishes the parameters of a very small symmetrical triangle pattern. As the stock begins to move higher from point (d) volume increases dramatically, buyers overwhelm those taking profits. Over the next 1-2 sessions the stock moves through the high set at point (c) and volume surges further. This triggers an upside breakout point (e). The next session several Wall Street firms either make new “buy” recommendations or reiterate existing recommendations.

The stock opens higher and goes on to make significant new highs in the weeks ahead.

Bear Flag (Continuation Pattern)

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Bear Flag is a sharp, strong volume decline on a negative fundamental development, several days of sideways to higher price action on much weaker volume followed by a second, sharp decline to new lows on strong volume.

The technical target for a bear flag pattern is derived by subtracting the height of the flag pole from the eventual breakout level at point (e).

  • Bear flag formations involve two distinct parts, a near vertical, high volume flag pole and a parallel, low volume consolidation comprised of four points and an upside breakout.
  • The actual flag formation of a bear flag pattern must be less than 20 trading sessions in duration.
  • Most bear flag patterns occur at the middle of the larger move lower for a stock.
  • Downside breakouts often lead to small 2-3% declines followed by an immediate test of the breakout level. If the stock closes above this level (now resistance) for any reason the pattern becomes invalid.

Bear flags are favored among technical traders because they almost always lead to large and predicable price moves. Like all continuation patterns, bear flags represent little more than a brief lull in a larger move lower. Indeed, in many cases the flag pattern will actually take shape in the middle of the ultimate move lower. Like bull flags, bear flags occur because stocks rarely move in one direction for an extended period, instead, the move is broken up by brief periods where traders “catch their breath”. These periods are flags and pennants.

The first part of the bear flag pattern is often called the flagpole or mast. During this phase the stock price collapses to a reaction low (a) following some negative fundamental development. Very often this will be downward guidance, an unfavorable legal resolution or negative earnings surprise but the change in price is near vertical as would be buyers are overwhelmed by frantic new sellers caught-up in the euphoria of the moment. As the stock collapses some speculators that were smart enough to have sold short stock at higher levels begin buying to cover short positions and some less informed investors actually begin bargainhunting.

At this point the second phase or flag portion of the bear flag begins. Because the flow of news and investor sentiment is overwhelming negative, most of the stock bought by speculators is easily absorbed by nervous sellers in the beginning but as time passes selling pressures abate and slowly, the stock price begins to rise on dramatically reduced volume. It is bargain-hunting that pushes the stock off the lows but volume is so weak that the rally soon fizzles and the stock puts-in a short term top point (b).

With bearish sentiment still rampant the next decline threatens to push the stock to fresh new lows but as the decline begins volume slows further and the bargain-hunters become more enthusiastic. As the stock approaches the reaction low price stabilizes and second short term bottom is established at slightly higher levels point (c). Buoyed by the fact the stock did not make a relative new low bargain hunters once again begin buying the stock. This time the stock rallies slightly higher than point (b) but volume is even weaker and the rally soon fails (d).

During the next 3-4 sessions the stock trades in a narrow range and volume slows dramatically before the stock begins to slide toward the lows established at point (c). Over the next 1-2 sessions the stock moves through these lows, triggering a downside breakout (e). Over the next session several Wall Street firms make negative comments or reduce earnings estimates and a new leg lower begins. The stock opens lower and goes on to make significant new lows in the weeks ahead.

Bearish Pennant (Continuation Pattern)

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Bearish Pennant is a sharp, strong volume decline on a negative fundamental development, several days of narrowing price consolidation on much weaker volume followed by a second, sharp decline to new lows on strong volume.

The technical target for a bearish pennant pattern is derived by subtracting the height flag pole from the eventual breakout level at point (e).

  • Bearish pennant formations involve two distinct parts, a near vertical, high volume flag pole and a symmetrical, low volume triangular consolidation comprised of four points and a downside breakout.
  • The triangular consolidation during the formation of the pennant is very much like a symmetrical triangle and this implies that traders feel comfortable with the current price.
  • The actual flag formation of a bearish pennant pattern must be less than 20 trading sessions in duration.
  • Most bearish pennant patterns occur at the middle of the larger move lower for a stock.
  • Downside breakouts often lead to small 2-3% declines followed by an immediate test of the breakout level. If the stock closes above this level (now resistance) for any reason the pattern becomes invalid.

Bearish pennants are very close cousins to bear flags, in fact, there is only one major difference, the consolidation after the flag pole is triangular (pennant-shaped) as opposed to being parallel (flag-shaped). Like flags, pennants are favored among technical traders because they almost always lead to large and predicable price moves. Finally, like flags, pennants usually take shape at the mid point of a major move higher.

The first part of the bearish pennant pattern is often called the flagpole or mast. During this phase the stock price collapses to a reaction low (a) following some negative fundamental development. Very often this will be downward guidance, an unfavorable legal resolution or negative earnings surprise but the change in price is near vertical as would be buyers are overwhelmed by frantic new sellers caught-up in the euphoria of the moment. As the stock collapses some speculators that were smart enough to have sold short stock at higher levels begin buying to cover short positions and some less informed investors actually begin bargain-hunting.

At this point the second phase or pennant portion of the bearish pennant begins. Because the flow of news and investor sentiment is overwhelming negative, most of the stock bought by speculators is easily absorbed by nervous sellers in the beginning but as time passes selling pressures abate and slowly, the stock price begins to rise on dramatically reduced volume. It is bargain-hunting that pushes the stock off the lows but volume is so weak that the rally soon fizzles and the stock puts-in a short term top point (b).

With bearish sentiment still rampant the next decline threatens to push the stock to fresh new lows but as the decline begins volume slows further and the bargain-hunters become more enthusiastic. As the stock approaches the reaction low price stabilizes and second short term bottom is established at slightly higher levels point (c). Buoyed by the fact the stock did not make a relative new low bargain hunters once again begin buying the stock. This time the stock rallies but fails to move beyond the highs established at point (b).

This lower high establishes the parameters of a very small symmetrical triangle pattern and becomes point (d) in the bearish pennant pattern. During the next 3-4 sessions the stock trades in a narrow range and volume slows dramatically before the beginning to slide toward the lows established at point (c). Over the next 1-2 sessions the stock moves through these lows, triggering a downside breakout (e). The next session several Wall Street firms make negative comments or reduce earnings estimates and a new leg lower begins. The stock opens lower and goes on to make significant new lows in the weeks ahead.

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David Richard

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