How to Spot and Time Market Tops

05/16/2013 8:00 am EST


Successful traders know better than to fight the prevailing trend, but if your gambling instincts take over, Chris Vermeulen of shares a few tips for how you can recognize that the market has topped.

Since the middle of April everyone, and including their grandmother, seems to have been building a short position in the equities market and we know picking tops or bottoms fighting the major underlying trend is risky business but most individuals cannot resist.

The rush one gets trying to pick a major top or bottom is flat out exciting and that is what makes it so darn addicting and irresistible. If you have ever nailed a market top or bottom then you know just how much money can be made. That one big win naturally draws you back to keep doing it much like how a casino works. The chemicals released in the brain during these extremely exciting times are strong enough that even the most focused traders fall victim to breaking rules and trying these type of bets/trades.

So, if are going to try to pick a top, you better be sure the charts and odds are leaning in your favor as much as possible before starting to build a position.

Below are a few charts with my analysis and thoughts overlaid showing you some of the things I look at when thinking about a countertrend trade like picking a top within a bull market.

Utility Stocks vs. SP500 Index Daily Performance Chart:
The SPY and XLU performance chart below clearly shows how the majority of traders move out of the slow-moving defensive stocks (utilities: XLU) and start to put their money into more risky stocks. This helps boost the broad market. I see the same thing in bonds and gold this month, which is a sign that a market top is nearing.

That being said, when a market tops, it is generally a process, which takes time. Most traders think tops are a one-day event, but most of the time, it takes weeks to unfold as the upward momentum slows and the big smart money players slowly hand off their long positions to the greedy emotion drove traders.

Look at the chart below and notice the first red box during September and October. As you can see it took nearly six weeks for that top to form before actually falling off. That same thing could easily happen again this time, though I do feel it will be more violent this time around.

Click to Enlarge

NEXT PAGE: Key Things to Watch


SPY ETF Trading Chart Shows Instability and Resistance
Using simple trend line analysis, we see the equities market is trading at resistance and sideways or lower prices are more likely in the next week or two.

Click to Enlarge

Stocks Trading Above 150-Day Moving Average Chart:
This chart, because it's based on a very long-term moving average (150sma), is a slow mover and does not work well for timing trades. But with that said, it does clearly warn you when stocks are getting a little overpriced and sellers could start at any time.

General rule is not to invest money on the long side when this chart is above the 75% level. Rather, wait for a pullback below it.

Click to Enlarge

Stocks Trading Above 20-Day Moving Average Chart:
This chart is based on the 20-day moving average, which moves quickly. Because it reacts quicker to recent price action, it can be a great help in timing an entry point for a market top or bottom. It does not pinpoint the day/top, but it does give you a one- or two-week window of when price should start to correct.

Click to Enlarge

How to Spot and Time Stock Market Tops Conclusion
As we all know or will soon find out, trading is one of the toughest businesses or and one of the most expensive hobbies that one will try to master. Hence the 95-99% failure rate of individuals who try to understand how the market functions, position management, how to control their own emotions, and to create/follow a winning strategy.

With over 8,000 public traded companies, exchange traded funds, options, bonds, commodities, futures, forex, currencies etc. to pick from, it's easy to get overwhelmed and just start doing more or less random trades without a proven, documented rule-based strategy. This type of trading results in frustration, loss of money, and the eventual closure of a trading account. During this process most individuals will also lose friends, family, and in many cases, self-confidence.

So, the next time you think about betting against the trend to pick a top or a bottom, you better make darn sure you have waited well beyond the first day you feel like the market is topping out. Stocks trading over the 150- and 20-day moving averages should be in the upper reversal zones and money should be flowing out of bonds and other safe haven/defensive stocks to fuel the last rally/surge higher in the broad market.

Also, I would like to note that I do follow the index futures and volume very closely on both the intraday and daily charts. This is where the big money does a lot of trading. Knowing when futures contracts are being sold or bought with heavy volume is very important data in helping time tops and bottoms more accurately. And the more experience you have in trading also plays a large part in your success in trading tops and bottoms.

By Chris Vermeulen of

  By clicking submit, you agree to our privacy policy & terms of service.

Related Articles on STRATEGIES

Keyword Image
Caution Signs for Investors
12/31/2018 5:00 am EST

Notable signs of deterioration have developed in the current situation. The U.S. housing market is i...