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Consolidation is the term for a stock or security that is neither continuing nor reversing a larger price trend. Consolidated stocks typically trade within limited price ranges and offer relatively few trading opportunities until another pattern emerges. Technical analysts and traders regard consolidation periods as indecisive and cautious.

[Note: There are many different chart patterns that can be used to identify areas of consolidation, while others help predict when a stock is likely to break out higher or lower. Investopedia's Technical Analysis course provides an in-depth overview of these technical tools and strategies to help you maximize risk-adjusted returns. With over five hours of on-demand video, exercises and interactive content, you will learn how to set price targets and get out of bad trades quickly.]

You can identify a stock that is under consolidation by watching for three simultaneously occurring properties on a price chart.

  • The first is that the stock has definable and steady support and resistance levels, much like a flag continuation pattern.
  • The second characteristic is a narrow trading range. Be careful, though, because not all stocks and securities have similar volatility. Trading ranges are relative.
  • The last feature to look for is a relatively low level of trading volume that does not exhibit major spikes.

Consolidation is neither positive nor negative on its own. Sometimes a consolidation period emerges after a healthy price movement. Traders, careful about possible overbought or oversold positions, may look to smooth out movements before another trend emerges.

Once you have identified a consolidation, keep an eye out for any possible breakouts above or below the upper and lower trading range bounds. These breakouts can be accompanied by large increases in volume and lead to large gains or losses in a short period of time, especially if the stock has been in consolidation for a longer stretch of time.

A breakout from a consolidation pattern signals a victory by either buyers or sellers over the other. Standard breakout trading techniques include buying long and covering short when prices break through the resistance level, or selling short and covering long when prices drop below support. More conservative traders look for some confirmation before entering these trades, either through analytical tools or continued price action.

It is common for a support level to become the new resistance point after a bearish breakout and for a resistance level to form support after a bullish breakout. Sometimes consolidations show triangle or pennant patterns, making it possible to execute continuation strategies.

Before determining how to trade a consolidation, identify how long the pattern has held. There are no appreciable time restraints on a consolidation. Intraday consolidation can last for only a few minutes or hours. If you look for active intraday trading, consult technical analysis software for dynamic information updates. Some consolidation patterns last for days, weeks, or even months or years. These patterns are susceptible to false breakouts, making it important to seek confirmation of prices before looking to capitalize on a trend.

Countertraders and contrarians can still trade on narrowly consolidated stocks, but there is often less room for profit due to the small range.

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