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A Flag bearish follows a steep, or nearly vertical decline in price
 
Flag (Bearish) Classic Pattern
 
 

Implication

A Flag (Bearish) is considered a bearish signal, indicating that the current downtrend may continue.

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Description

A Flag (Bearish) follows a steep, or nearly vertical decline in price, and consists of two parallel trendlines that form a rectangular flag shape. The Flag can be horizontal (as though the wind is blowing it), however it often has a slight upward trend.

The vertical downtrend, that precedes a Flag, may occur because of buyers' reactions to an unfavorable company announcement, such as a court case, or a sudden and unexpected departure of a CEO. The sharp price decrease is sometimes referred to as the "flagpole" or "mast".

Bear Flag

The rectangular flag shape is the product of what technical analysts refer to as consolidation. Consolidation occurs when the price seems to bounce between an upper and lower price limit. The Flag (Bearish) pattern formation reflects the reaction of sellers who are willing to sell at a lower cost, and the influx of buyers who inadvertently drive up the price as they compete to buy at the best possible price.

A bearish signal occurs when the price rebounds beyond the lower trendline of the Flag formation, and continues the original downward price movement. This is considered a pattern confirmation.

When speaking about Flags, technical analysts may use jargon and refer to the flag as "flying at half-mast". Visually, this reference is nothing like a flag at half-mast, such as on a day of national mourning. Instead, this term refers to the location of the flag - at the mid-point of what would otherwise be a continuous downtrend.

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Important Characteristics

Following are important characteristics for this pattern.

Trendlines

Flags are very similar to Pennants. However, with a Flag, the price trendlines tend to run parallel, whereas with a Pennant, the price trendlines tend to converge. John J. Murphy notes that a price drop below the lower trendline may indicate the resumption of the downtrend.

Volume

As the Flag develops, the volume tends to decrease. However, you will often notice a sharp spike in volume at the end of a Flag, whether it is bearish or bullish.

Duration of the Pattern

Martin Pring notes in his book, Technical Analysis Explained that "Flags can form in a period as short as 5 days or as longs as 3 to 5 weeks." John J. Murphy identifies that Flags "often last no longer than one or two weeks."

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Trading Considerations

Possibility of Price Reversal

In some rare cases, the price will break against the original price movement, and create a reversal trend. The pattern reversal may be signaled during the Flag formation by a pattern of increasing volume, as opposed to the more typical decrease.

Duration of the Pattern

The duration of the pattern depends on the extent of the price fluctuations (consolidation). The greater the fluctuations, the longer a pattern will take to develop.

Target Price

It is commonly held that the length of the flagpole indicates the potential price decrease. When the Flag completes, the price typically jumps to replicate the height of the original flagpole, while continuing in the direction of the inbound trend.

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Criteria that Supports

Volume

Volume should diminish noticeably as the pattern forms.

A strong volume spike on the day of the pattern confirmation is a strong indicator in support of the potential for this pattern. The volume spike should be significantly above the average of the volume for the duration of the pattern. In addition, the volume over the course of the pattern should be declining on average.

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Criteria that Refutes

Duration of the Pattern

According to Martin Pring, a pattern that exceeds "4 weeks to develop should ... be treated with caution". After 4 weeks, interest in the stock is likely to decrease to point that it is unlikely to continue in a strong downtrend.

No Volume Spike on Breakout

The lack of a volume spike on the day of the pattern confirmation is an indication that this pattern may not be reliable. In addition, if the volume has remained constant, or was increasing, over the duration of the pattern, then this pattern should be considered less reliable and may actually reverse.

Long Inbound Trend

Shabacker writes that, "When a mast is long ... and it's Flag relatively small, we should naturally expect the movement to be pretty well exhausted when its indicated objective is reached." He suggests that when you observe this formation, and a price continuation occurs, it is best to use the flagpole as a "yard-stick" to indicate the level at which to "take profits, step aside, and watch for further chart developments."

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Underlying Behavior

This pattern is effectively a pause in a downtrend. The price has gotten ahead of itself with a steep rise; therefore market activity takes a break before continuing the downtrend. This pause is reflected in the decreasing trading volume. Similarly, a spike in volume marks the resumption of the downtrend.