What Is a Broadening Formation?

A broadening formation is a price chart pattern identified by technical analysts. It is characterized by increasing price volatility and diagrammed as two diverging trend lines, one rising and one falling. It usually occurs after a significant rise, or fall, in the action of security prices. It is identified on a chart by a series of higher pivot highs and lower pivot lows. The chart below shows an example of a classic broadening formation.

Broadening Formation

Understanding Broadening Formations

Broadening formations occur when a market is experiencing heightened disagreement among investors over the appropriate price of a security over a short period of time. Buyers become increasingly willing to buy at higher prices, while sellers find ever more motivation to take profits. This creates a series of higher interim peaks in price and lower interim lows. When connecting these highs and lows, the trend lines form a widening pattern that looks like a megaphone or reverse symmetrical triangle.

The price may reflect the random disagreement between investors, or it may reflect a more fundamental factor. For example, many countries experience broadening formations due to heightened political risk ahead of an upcoming election. Different polling results or candidate policies may cause a market to become very bullish at some points and very bearish at other points. Broadening formations may also occur during earnings season when companies may report differing quarterly financial results that can cause bouts of optimism or pessimism.

These formations are relatively rare during normal market conditions over the long-term, since most markets tend to trend in one direction or another over time. For example, the S&P 500 has consistently moved higher over the long-term, therefore the formations are more common at times when market participants have begun to process a series of unsettling news topics. Topics such as geopolitical conflict or a change of direction in Fed policy, or especially a combination of the two, are likely to coincide with such formations.

Profiting from Broadening Formations 

Broadening formations are generally bearish for most long-term investors and trend traders since they are characterized by rising volatility without a clear move in a single direction. However, they are good news for swing traders and day traders, who attempt to profit from volatility rather than relying on directional movements in a market. These traders rely on technical analysis techniques, such as trendlines or technical indicators, to quickly enter and exit trades that capitalize on short-term movements. The trendlines help them anticipate turning points where they are able to profit from trading decisions if they time the trade successfully or to cut their losses short if the price moves against their position.

For example, a swing trader may identify a broadening formation and enter long positions when the price hits a lower trendline and/or short positions when the price hits an upper trendline. The widening of these two trendlines means the potential profit for each swing trade is greater than the swing before. Those conditions aren't true if the trendlines were converging (as in a symmetrical triangle) or parallel (as in a price channel).

In addition to looking at trendlines, these traders may look toward momentum indicators to identify the likelihood of a short-term reversal. Day traders tend to see these patterns more often as well since they are focused on shorter time frames lasting minutes or hours. At these time frames, broadening formations tend to be more frequent.