What Is the 52-Week Range?

The 52-week range is a data point traditionally reported by printed financial news media, but more modernly included in data feeds from financial information sources online. The data point includes the lowest and highest price at which a stock has traded during the previous 52 weeks.

Investors use this information as a proxy for how much fluctuation and risk they may have to endure over the course of a year should they choose to invest in a given stock. Investors can find a stock's 52-week range in a stock's quote summary provided by a broker or financial information website. The visual representation of this data can be observed on a price chart that displays one year's worth of price data.

Key Takeaways

  • The 52-week range is designated by the highest and lowest published price of a security over the previous year.
  • Analysts use this range to understand volatility.
  • Technical analysts use this range data, combined with trend observations, to get an idea of trading opportunities.

Understanding the 52-Week Range

The 52-week range can be a single data point of two numbers: the highest and lowest price for the previous year. But there is much more to the story than these two numbers alone. Visualizing the data in a chart to show the price action for the entire year can provide a much better context for how these numbers are generated. Since price movement is not always balanced and rarely symmetrical, it is important for an investor to know which number was more recent, the high or the low. Usually an investor will assume the number closest to the current price is the most recent one, but this is not always the case, and not knowing the correct information can make for costly investment decisions.

Two examples of the 52-week range in the following chart show how useful it might be to compare the high and low prices with the larger picture of the price data over the past year.

52-Week Range (Set 1)
52-Week Range (Set 1).

These examples show virtually the same high and low data points for a 52-week range (set 1 marked in blue lines) and a trend that seems to indicate a short-term downward move ahead.

52-Week Range (Set 2)
52-Week Range (Set 2).

The overlapping range on the same stock (Set 2 marked in red lines) now seems to imply that an upward move may be following at least in the short term. Both of these trends can be seen to play out as expected (though such outcomes are never certain). Technical analysts compare a stock's current trading price and its recent trend to its 52-week range to get a broad sense of how the stock is performing relative to the past 12 months. They also look to see how much the stock's price has fluctuated, and whether such fluctuation is likely to continue or even increase.

The information from the high and low data points may indicate the potential future range of the stock and how volatile its price is, but only the trend and relative strength studies can help a trader or analyst understand the context of those two data points. Most financial websites that quote a stock’s share price also quote its 52-week range. Sites like Yahoo Finance, Finviz.com and StockCharts.com allow investors to scan for stocks trading at their 12-month high or low. (To learn more, see: Getting Started with Stock Screeners.)

Current Price Relative to 52-Week Range

To calculate where a stock is currently trading at in relations to its 52-week high and low, consider the following example:

Suppose over the last year that a stock has traded as high as $100, as low as $50 and is currently trading at $70. This means the stock is trading 30% below its 52-week high (1-(70/100) = 0.30 or 30%) and 40% above its 52-week low ((70/50) – 1 = 0.40 or 40%). These calculations take the difference between the current price and the high or low price over the past 12 months and then convert them to percentages.

52-Week Range Trading Strategies

Investors can buy a stock when it trades above its 52-week range, or open a short position when it trades below it. Aggressive traders could place a stop-limit order slightly above or below the 52-week trade to catch the initial breakout. Price often retraces back to the breakout level before resuming its trend; therefore, traders who want to take a more conservative approach may want to wait for a retracement before entering the market to avoid chasing the breakout.

Volume should be steadily increasing when a stock’s price nears the high or low of its 12-month range to show the issue has enough participation to breakout to a new level. Trades could use indicators like the on-balance volume (OBV) to track rising volume. The breakout should ideally trade above or below a psychological number also, such as $50 or $100, to help gain the attention of institutional investors. (For further reading, see: How to Use Volume to Improve Your Trading.)