A practical Trading Guide for the Bull Flag Pattern

In this article

  • Screening the Bullish (and Bearish) Flag Pattern in ChartMill.
  • The importance of Volume and Momentum.
  • Distinctive characteristics of the flag pattern.
  • How NOT to trade this pattern...
  • How it’s done properly… for swing- and trendtrading.
  • Position- and Stoplossmanagement using ChartMill's PST-tool.
  • How to take advantage of this Bull Flag Pattern as a daytrader?
  • Where and when to exit?
  • Final Thoughts...

If you are not yet completely familiar with the flag pattern or you want to refresh your knowledge, you can use this link to read an article where the pattern is described in detail.

Screening the Bullish and Bearish Flag Pattern in ChartMill

ChartMill offers the ability to automatically scan for the presence of bull and bear flags. To do so, go to the 'Stock Screener' page and select the 'Indicators' section from the menu. You can filter on both the daily and weekly chart by the bullish or bearish flag pattern. ChartMill even allows you to filter by the length of the pole and both the length and width of the flag itself.

bull flag stockscreener

Keep in mind that these are automatically generated results and certainly not all of them are perfect. The screener provides an initial basic selection of stocks that exhibit characteristics of a bullish or bearish flag, but further manual selection by yourself is required to withhold only the best setups. Don't forget to make the flag pattern visible on the charts as well. To do so, in the stockscreener, select the 'Main Chart', click on the 'blue plus sign' and via 'Select Overlay To Ad' choose 'ChartMill Flag' from the drop down menu.

bull flag charts

The trading strategy in this article is based on a breakout from the Bullish Flag Pattern and can be applied to any timeframe. Whether it is a 5 minute intraday chart or a chart where each candle represents a full trading week, the principles remain the same. Just keep in mind that automatic screening for flag patterns is only possible on the daily and weekly chart.

This article has become quite long because I wanted to draw attention to some important aspects that are often overlooked when people talk about bearish or bullish flag patterns. You will come across these patterns quite often on all sorts of charts but if you follow the guidelines given in this article you will quickly realize that very few of these flag patterns really meet all the conditions to be considered true low risk setups. It's not about quantity but about quality, as with many other things in daily life.

The importance of Volume and Momentum

Volume and momentum are the most important characteristics when trading flag patterns (with all technical patterns, by the way). The pattern itself is only an indication, it gives us a potential low risk setup. Momentum says something about the speed and force with which the price moves but says nothing about the direction the price is going. Volume has everything to do with the amount of shares that change hands. This can be measured over a single day or over a longer time period.

When rising momentum and volume occur together, this is important information for the technical trader. After all, you are dealing with a price movement which is gaining strength (momentum) and at the same time more and more shares are changing hands (volume). This degree of volatility, combined with technical patterns and sound risk management, offers attractive opportunities to investors.

Distinctive characteristics of the flag pattern.

Not all flag patterns are suitable for trading. Flag patterns come in all shapes and sizes but at least the following basic characteristics must be present:

For a Bullish Flag Pattern

A strong rising trend with clear consecutive large candles, rising volume and a closing price for each candle close to its highest price. This tells us that there is considerable momentum.

After this first price climax, price drops slightly. At this stage there should be absolutely no question of an explicit sharp decline, as we want to avoid that kind of downward momentum. It's rather a sideways movement, in the most ideal circumstances the candles are quite small and there are several tails visible at the bottom and at the top of the candles. This is the ongoing price action that forms the actual flag of the pattern. This pause after the initial strong rise is triggered by those who bought the stock early and are now taking advantage of the strong buy momentum to (partially) sell long positions. The moment the actual breakout occurs is when new buyers step into the market.

Check out the bullish Flag Pattern in the chart of Entravision Communications Corp. on date of June 30, 2021.

EVC_chart

And another Example for Caredx Inc. on date of June 7, 2021.

CDNA_chart

For a Bearish Flag Pattern

The same principles remain valid. See this example of a bearish flag pattern at the end of August 2021 (Stanley Black&Decker Inc.).

SWK_chart

How NOT to trade this pattern...

The most common mistake is to try to anticipate the breakout move. While the candle is forming and going higher or lower than the outer limits of the flag, a position is already opened assuming that the breakout will take place. Unfortunately, you can't be sure of that. The fact that the price goes through the lower or upper limits of the flag says nothing about where the final closing price of the candle will be. See the chart below.

SIC_chart

All the elements necessary for a valid bullish flag pattern are present. A strong increase with high volume and considerable momentum, followed by a sideways, slightly declining trading range which forms the actual flag. Nice! Now suppose we set our Buy Stop Order at $11.50, the price level at which we assume the flag pattern has effectively been broken and price will move higher... The stoploss is positioned just below the flag pattern.

bullish entry before closing candle

The following day this happens:

SIC_chart (2)

The breakout from the flag pattern proves false. At the end of the day the price still closed within the flag pattern which again invalidates the setup. However, by entering the market too quickly you are now stuck in a long position which suddenly looks far less attractive. Not only it appears to be a false breakout but on top of that a bearish doji candle had just been formed with a long uppertail at the top of the trading range.... Barely three days later, on June 10, the long position is stopped out.

SIC_chart (3)

Just remember this rule: The first candle that breaks out and can close outside the limits of the pattern is proof that the pattern exists and that it can be observed on the chart. Until that happens, there is only the possibility of the pattern.

How it’s done properly… for swing- and trendtrading.

On Monday, September 10, I had ChartMill run a scan for a bullish flag pattern, using the following filters :

  • Exchange : US only
  • Price : Above 20
  • Average Volume : 50SMA>300K
  • ETF : No ETFs
  • Bull Flag Pattern recognized by ChartMill

With these filters, ChartMill showed me 112 candidates. To further refine these I then added another price filter :

  • Price vs. SMA : Price in 5% Range of SMA(200)

bull flag filter

I ended up with only 7 results. As you can see in the screenshot above I have set the historical date to 2021-09-10, that way you can now access my exact filter results that ChartMill presented at the time using this link. Initially I thought that the filter was set too strict with this last condition but from this small group of stocks I noticed almost immediately one ticker:

ITCI_chart (9)

For your reference, the two parallel slanted purple lines which form the flag pattern are drawn fully automatically by the software. To display them by default in the chart, choose the overlay 'ChartMill Flags' in the chart settings as I already illustrated in the beginning of this article.

I added ‘ITCI’ to my watchlist, three days later it looks like this…

ITCI_chart (10)

It remains a wonderful bull flag pattern but of course we want to see confirmation. One thing I did notice on September 15 was the volume that went along with the rise that day. So what do we observe after the September 15 trading day?

ITCI_chart

The confirmation move occurs the following day, the price rose by more than 3% and closed just below the high of day. Moreover, the closing price was clearly above the bullish flag pattern which confirmed and completed this pattern.

ITCI_chart (1)

A Buysetup above the last candle is the next step but in this case there was another problem in the form of a horizontal resistance level very close to the current closing price.

So… waiting again for a confirmation breakout (Did I already mention that patience is an essential skill as a trader?)

ITCI_chart (3)

Nope, but it's starting to look better and better. A narrow doji candle and lots of volume just below key resistance.... This looks promising!

ITCI_chart (4)

The following day, ITCI rises more than 2,5% and the closing price was just above resistance. We now have two confirmed price patterns, a Bullish Flag pattern in a Cup and Handle chart Pattern. It’s time for a buy setup. As a swing- or trendtrader the actual entry setup is on the daily chart:

ITCI_chart (6)

The first real target for this setup is situated at the previous high ($44,5). At the time of writing this article, the chart looks like this :

ITCI_chart (8)

Position- and Stoplossmanagement using ChartMill's PST-tool

Knowing when to buy is one thing. Knowing how much you are allowed to buy and what your maximum loss will be if you get stopped out are additional essential elements for any individual trade. ChartMill can calculate this quickly and fully automatically with the easy-to-use Position Sizing Tool. The software calculates how many shares you may/can buy based on your available trading equity. In the screenshots below we assume a trading capital of $25.000 and the maximum risk% is set at 1%.

pst1

Defensive stoploss is set at $32,28. The PST-Tool gives a warning if the stoploss is less than 2ATR (Average True Range) from the entry. In this case, however, the warning is incorrect because the tool only takes into account the current ATR position and this example dates from early June 2021, when the ATR value for the stock was approximately $1.35. Thus, twice the ATR range means a stoploss that should be at least $2.70 lower than the entry. This brings us in this example to $33.02 which is still well above the defined defensive stoploss. With the defensive stoploss, the potential risk/reward (R/R) for this position is about 2.55 which is not bad at all.

pst2

If the more aggressive stop is used at $33.84 then we do end up below the intended 2-ATR value. In this case at about 1.2 ATR if we take into account the ATR value at the time of entry. Of course, this is a personal consideration and is closely related to your personal investment style. But as you can see for yourself, this tool gives you information that you might not have even considered. You can find an extensive article about all functions of the Position Sizing Tool via this link .

With the more aggressive stoploss, the R/R ratio rises to nearly 4.7. You could argue that in this case the more aggressive stoploss was definitely the better choice... But would you still believe that if after the entry the price fell below this shorter stoploss and then rose again to where it is now? Bottom line, the candles on the chart after the long position was triggered were not there at the time of the entry, so a defensive stoploss certainly remains a well-considered choice.

How to take advantage of this Bull Flag Pattern as a daytrader?

Actually, the approach is pretty much the same, even as a day trader it is best to wait until the pattern is fully established before taking action.

INTRADAY CHART

The 5-minute chart is shown above. The green long candle is the opening candle on the date of September 21, 2021. As seen on this intraday chart an ascending triangle pattern was visible. The price immediately breaks through horizontal resistance with lots of momentum. This is quite noticeable by the fact that this is a huge green candle that closes strongly above the horizontal resistance. Just like with the break-out from the bull flag pattern it is tempting to open a long position during the break-out. As a short term trader this is certainly worth considering but keep in mind that you have no confirmation of the break-out until the candle closes above it. In this case it turned out well and the position was never in any danger.

Where and when to exit?

It is impossible to give a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to that specific question. As a scalper you will (hopefully) manage your position in a completely different way than as someone who wants to profit from the upward trend for as long as possible. So below I am providing a number of options for you to consider on the daily chart. yet one piece of advice I would like to share.... Take the one that best suits your trading style and stick with it. There are no better or worse ways. The key to success in this area is consistency.

The main distinction you need to make first and foremost when determining your stoploss is the following : Are you going for a set target price or do you want to hold the position as long as the trend lasts? If you prefer price target it’s pretty simple; the moment you enter your buy and stop orders, a sell limit order is created at the same time which is set at your target price. You can rely on a risk/reward of 1, 2, 3,...etc. or you can simply look at the next resistance level and place your target price just below it.

ITCI_chart (11)

In the second case there are numerous options but in the end it always comes down to adjusting the stoploss in your favor based on the price movements. The only rule you should never forget is that you may never change a stoploss to your disadvantage.

Simple Moving Average

ITCI_chart (17)

As soon as the first candle closes below the SMA, move the stoploss just below the low of that candle. IN this example i’ve used a SMA20 but if you want to give the price a little more room you can opt for an SMA50.

Trendline

ITCI_chart (18)

As soon as the first candle closes below the ascending trendline, move the stoploss just below the low of that candle.

Swingpoints (Higher Highs and Higher Lows)

ITCI_chart (14)

As soon as a new higher high is established, move the stoploss to just below the most recent higher low.

ATR-based stop

ITCI_chart (15)

ChartMill allows you to place an ATR (Average True Range) stop directly in the chart as a reference. You can choose to use 3, 4 or even up to five times the ATR value as the stoploss level. The stop is effective immediately once the price falls below that stoploss line. To set this ATR stop, place the cursor on the price level where you have set the initial stoploss. Then right click and the following menu appears. Select the 3, 4 or 5 ATR-stop and select a color. If these settings fail to appear on the chart, click once on the magnifying glass at the top right of the chart and then repeat the action.

ATR based stop

5 or 7 Price Bar Pattern Stop

ITCI_chart (16)

The stop price is moved up or down every time a 5 or a 7 bar pattern is discovered. To set this 5 or 7bp stop, place the cursor on the price level where you have set the initial stoploss. Then right click and the following menu appears. Pick the appropriate stoploss and a preferred color.

Bar Pattern based stpop

Conclusion

Flag patterns, like other technical patterns, are ideal tools to time your entry in the market. Merely recognizing the pattern on a chart however, is not a free ticket to open positions blindly. As has been shown in this post, there are numerous other elements that must be considered in order to be retained as a valid pattern.

ChartMill offers the possibility to have the software screen for bull or bear flag patterns on a daily basis. So you don't have to waste time manually searching for setups. Select the best low risk setups from the list provided by ChartMill (based on the points explained in this article) and make sure your entry- stoploss- and position management are on point!

Trade safe!



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