RealTime IT News

A Major Bottom?

A chart pattern that marked tops in many tech stocks a year ago is beginning to show up in reverse in many of the same stocks, signaling a potential bottom.

The pattern is called the head and shoulders, and it marked major tops last year in stocks like AOL, Amazon.com and JDS Uniphase.

The pattern's opposite, called an inverse head and shoulders, is beginning to show up in leading stocks like Juniper Networks , Ciena and Microsoft , among others.

We'll begin with Network Appliance , this week's Company of the Week (http://www.wsrn.com/COW/) and one of the few inverse head and shoulders patterns to be completed with a break to the upside. The others are still theoretical until they break out.

Here's a chart of the Network Appliance pattern:

The pattern is essentially an upside down head and shoulders, with a neckline that marks the breakout, or the pattern's completion. The NTAP example is a particularly nice one, because the pattern was broken by the required 3% on a closing basis, and the neckline was successfully retested on Friday, confirming the breakout. The projected advance out of a head and shoulders pattern is arrived at by measuring the distance from the tip of the head to the neckline, and projecting that advance from the neckline, or breakout point.

The head on NTAP was at 11.44, and the neckline at 23.50, giving the stock minimum upside potential to 35.56. The pattern is considered a major trend reversal (a bottom), so NTAP should exceed the potential upside target if the trend reversal is for real, just as many stocks exceeded their minimum downside targets on the way down. These are not short-term price projections, however; just as it took two months to form that pattern, it should take at least that long to reach the $35 mark. And the pattern could still fail on a 3% closing breach of 23.50 support.

A look at the psychology behind the pattern offers reasons for its effectiveness; it was certainly a deadly accurate pattern on the way down. The head represents capitulation, or investors throwing in the towel in one final selling frenzy. The subsequent rally catches those who sold (or who didn't buy at the bottom) by surprise, and they buy at a higher level, fearing they will miss out on something, thus creating the right shoulder. By the time the stock breaks out, its trend has changed through a series of higher highs, with buyers willing to pay higher and higher prices for the stock.

A few other examples that are appearing in stocks at the moment: Juniper's pattern is particularly nice. With a bottom of 28.60 and a neckline of 66, Juniper could be headed to 103 on a 3% closing break of 66:

Microsoft's pattern is a massive one. The stock could be headed to 102 on a 3% closing break of 71:

Ciena and Check Point have somewhat sloppier necklines, because investors bid them higher in the frenzy following the latest surprise Fed rate cut. But Ciena could be headed to 101 on a close 3% above 62, and Check Point could be headed to 106 on a close 3% above 73.

Even some fallen leaders are breaking out of similar bottoming patterns. CMGI has already exceeded its upside potential and will likely need to consolidate before further moves.

The appearance of many of these important patterns at once is worthy of note, but it remains to be seen whether the upside targets will pan out, or whether it will turn out to be one more bear market rally fooling investors. Fundamentals in all but a few tech stocks have fallen apart - three notable exceptions include Juniper, Ciena and Check Point - but perhaps the market is telling us something about the ability of the fundamentals to rebound in the face of the most aggressive Fed rate cutting in history.