Learn how to swing trade stocks using the trend channel strategy, including how and when to enter and exit trades, how to manage risk, find stocks to trade, what indicators to use (if any), and when to avoid trading.
Swing trading is a great way to earn extra income because it can be done at nearly any time day. Even if the market is closed, you can still look for and place trades in the evening (that’s what I do).
Looking for trend channel trade doesn’t take very long. This strategy can be implemented in 20 minutes once a week, or several times per week. It will take longer at first, but once you know what to look for, it doesn’t take up much time at all.
In this article, I lay out how to enter, exit, manage risk, what to trade, and when.
It’s a solid strategy and is covered in more detail in my Complete Method Stock Swing Trading Course.
Swing Trading Stock Trend Channels
The trend channel trading strategy is effective and highly visual.
A trend channel occurs when the price has bounced off a rising trendline at least three times or more. The price also tends to fall after hitting an upper trendline drawn along the price swing highs. A trade (buying opportunity) occurs on the fourth touchpoint of the lower trendline. Where the trend channel starts is the first touch point.
The following daily chart shows a rising trend channel. The price tends to rise off the lower trendline and falls from the upper channel.
Charts from TradingView.
PLEASE note, the trendline is NOT doing anything. We are drawing the trendlines to help us visualize the price action. It is not causing the price to bounce or reverse. The price is already doing that, and we are just highlighting that tendency with the trendline.
For the purposes of this strategy, a trendline is drawn once there are three bottoms that can be connected with the trendline. The trendline is then extended off to the right. The trendline only needs to intersect near all three lows. It doesn’t need to perfectly connect all three exact low points (more on this later).
An upper trendline is drawn once there are three swing highs. A line is drawn along the top of the swing highs and extended out to the right. Once again, it only needs to be near the three high points, making sure they are all touched. It doesn’t need to be along the exact highs.
When I draw a trendline for this strategy, it is a line of best fit. That means I don’t draw the line right along the highs or lows. Instead, I make sure the trendline touches near all the significant reversal points.
The chart above shows a best-fit channel. The best fit channel highlights the general movement of the stock. It’s not meant to tell us exactly when to trade. It’s meant to give us an idea of how the stock is moving.
If we don’t use a best-fit channel our chart can start to look pretty ugly as we continually have to redraw lines in order to match recent lows/highs with prior ones. For example, see the chart below.
Or, if we just try to connect one swing low with a later swing low , may end up disregarding some of the price swings in between, which means our channel may not be very accurate or helpful (for this strategy) going forward. There are multiple “thumbs-down” on the chart below compared to the best-fit chart where there are none.
Go back up and look at the first chart with all the thumbs up. The “best fit” approach is a slightly different way to draw the lines, but WAY more helpful (at least for this method, and with my trading style). All the highs are connected and all the lows are connected. On the chart with the thumbs down, some swings have been ignored/not included. Yet they’re important!
Now that you know how to draw and spot a trend channel, you’re in a position to start learning how to buy near the bottom of the channel, and where to sell near the top of the channel.
For an idea of how this strategy performed, I publically published trade signals for 31 weeks several years back. It returned 49% over that time frame. Not all the trades could have been taken (because some weeks there were too many trades so capital would have already been fully deployed), so the actual result would be a bit lower, but it shows the power of this simple strategy.
This video shows more about how I draw trendlines using a rule-based approach.
How and Where to Enter a Trend Channel Trade
The basic idea of the trend channel swing trading strategy is to buy near the bottom of the trend channel. BUT, if you do that with no other criteria you will lose a lot of money very quickly.
We need a signal near the bottom of the trend channel that tells us “Now is the time to buy.” This is called a trade trigger.
My favorite entry method is to wait for a consolidation near the bottom of the trend channel. A consolidation is when the price moves predominantly sideways for more than a couple of days.
The consolidation should occur near the bottom, or even slightly below, the trendline of best fit.
Buy when the price moves above the high price of the consolidation.
Sometimes we get a consolidation right near the bottom of the channel, other times we don’t. In the examples below you will see I sometimes use other triggers to get me into a trade.
You don’t need to sit watching your screen. Once you have identified a consolidation near the lower trendline, place a buy stop limit order a few cents above the consolidation-high price.
On the third box on the right (chart above), the two-period consolidation high is $191.75. Place a buy stop limit order at $191.80, with a limit of $192. This is the fourth touchpoint on the trendline (including the start), which is a good point to start trading. You can trade on the third touchpoint, but the win rate tends to be lower. That third touchpoint allows us to draw our line of best fit. That’s why I trade on the fourth touch and after, not sooner.
This type of order gets us into a trade when the price reaches a specific level ($191.80) but also controls how much we pay ($192). Controlling how much we pay is important. Imagine for a moment that you want to buy when the price moves above $191.80, but the next morning the price gaps* higher and opens at $195. If you only place a buy stop at $191.80, with no limit on the price you pay, you will end up paying $195. That is a lot higher than you expected.
As we will discuss a little later on when we talk about risk and reward, a worse price than expected means a smaller reward:risk. As you may have guessed, we’re going to exit near the top of the channel. If we end up buying in the middle of the channel instead of near the bottom, most of our profit potential has disappeared.
There are several entry methods you can use to signal your entry into a trend channel trade:
- Double consolidation
- Rounded bottom (generally a small one. Rounded bottoms are covered in the Complete Method Stock Swing Trading Course).
*A gap higher is when the open price the next day is above the close of the prior day. Gaps occur all the time, but big ones—when there’s a big price difference between the open and close—can cause problems if we’re trying to get in near a specific price level.
How and Where to Exit a Trend Channel Trade
We have our entry nailed down. We also need to know where our exit will be. We determine where, or at least how, we will get out of a trade before we take it.
We need an exit plan for if the trade turns profitable (profit target), and we need an exit plan for if the trade starts losing money (stop loss).
Trend Channel Strategy Stop Loss
A stop loss is how we control risk. For a long position, a stop loss is an order to sell if the price reaches a specified price or below.
For this strategy, place the stop loss several cents below the low of the consolidation (if going long). If using one of the other entry methods, place the stop loss a few cents below the low that just formed.
Since the price has to form a consolidation, and our entry and stop loss are based on that consolidation, we know both these levels before we take a trade.
The first trade above is actually the fourth touchpoint in a larger channel (earlier starting point). After that trade occurred, I adjusted the channel to the one above because it fit the recent swing lows a bit better. It is ok to update your channels if the original trendline is starting to look a little wonky, and there are at least three touchpoints to draw a new trendline extending off to the right.
Trend Channel Strategy Profit Target
We also need to establish where we will exit if the trade proceeds as planned and moves toward the top of the channel.
The simple answer is at the top of the channel. But where along the top of the channel? The upper trendline extends out to the right indefinitely, going up and up and up.
The conservative estimate is to place the target at the price associated with the top of the channel when you place the trade. That means you look at what price the upper trendline intersects directly above your entry point.
That’s a good target to use when starting out with this method.
As you become more comfortable with the strategy, you could measure how long prior advances took, or how far they ran to help establish a profit target.
I discuss some other exit methods in the Complete Method Stock Swing Trading Course along with some other tips on when to avoid trend channel trades.
The Early Exit
Regardless of how close or far the stock is from the stop loss or profit target, exit every trade the day before earnings announcements.
Earnings announcements can cause large gaps in the stock price, meaning you could end up losing much more than you expect if the price gaps below your stop loss. A stock can gap 10%, 20%, or even 50% or more on an earnings announcement….even in seemingly stable companies.
Trend Channel Strategy Risk/Reward
We have looked at entry points, stop losses, and profit targets. Now we need to discuss how those three points relate to each other.
I am typically not interested in a trend channel trade unless my potential profit (the difference between profit target and entry point) is at least three times my risk (the difference between the entry point and stop loss).
TradingView Charts offer a useful “long position” or “short position” tool that allows you to set your entry, stop loss, and profit target so you can see it visually, and it also calculates your reward:risk.
It’s important to notice the process of how we determine our reward:risk. We don’t pick a reward:risk ratio and then pick our stop loss or profit target based on it. We analyze the stock and pick our entry, stop loss, and profit target based on that analysis first. We then determine the reward:risk. Only if the reward:risk is attractive to us do we take the trade.
If the reward:risk isn’t attractive, look for a better trade.
It may be possible to adjust trade levels slightly to get a more favorable R:R, but don’t make the mistake of expanding your profit target to a level where it is unlikely to get hit. Trust your analysis, your channel, and try to keep the target relatively conservative (compared to the trend channel and price waves in it) so that target remains likely to get hit.
There is another important element to consider: you’ve found a trade; how many shares do you buy?
How many shares you buy or dollars you invest in the trade is your position size. It should be based on a formula, not randomness.
Read How to Position Size When Swing Trading Stocks for a proper method for determining your position size.
How to Find Trend Channel Swing Trading Stocks
The trend channel strategy is one of the easiest strategies to scan for.
Scanning or filtering is a process by which we find stocks that could meet our strategy requirements. For this strategy, our main goal is to find stocks in trend channels.
Once we have a list of stocks in trend channels, we can look through them to see which ones are near an entry point and which ones offer a favorable reward:risk.
One of the quickest ways to find trend channels is to use the Finviz screening tool. Most of the features are free, although you may wish to update to the Elite/paid version for added functionality. Some other scanners may also allow you to search for technical patterns, such as trend channels.
- From the Signal drop-down, choose Channel Up for stocks currently moving in trend channels higher. If looking to use this strategy in downtrend stocks (to short), select Channel Down.
- For Average Volume, select Over 100K. We don’t want to trade stocks with very little volume. This is optional. Select a volume level you’re comfortable with.
- For Industry, select Stocks only (ex-Funds). If you don’t mind trading ETFs—and you can with this strategy—leave this blank. This is an optional criterion.
- Price > $5. This is optional if you want to avoid low price stocks. Or if you want to focus on low-priced stocks, choose stocks below a certain price.
- To only see stocks in likely uptrends, add Price above SMA200.
Click on Charts mode.
Finviz draws its own channels. These are just a guide. It’s up to you to draw the channels, as described, on stocks that may meet the strategy parameters.
Run through this screener once or twice a week looking for stocks that meet the strategy criteria.
Here’s an example.
At the time of this scan (2020), you can see that LULU is on the list. It is near the top of the channel, but it was also on the list when it was near the bottom of the channel, providing our trade example for this article.
AUDC is in a nice position for a swing trade, although at the time of this screenshot it has earnings coming out within a couple of days, so the trade is ignored for now. If a valid trend channel trade is still presenting itself after the earnings announcement the trade could be considered. For something like this, I would jot the stock down, along with the earnings date, and then take a look at it after earnings. If it still presents a good trade, awesome. If not, look for others.
Below are some examples from Finviz in late February 2023.
Some days you will find several quality trades when you scan, other days you will find none. Sometimes you won’t find any for weeks. Stay strong, and make sure you only take trades that align with the strategy. Not having a trade is better than taking a crappy one that will lose you money.
How to Swing Trade Trend Channel Stocks – Tying It All Up
Go through the list of stocks in the scanner (I use Finviz for this strategy) looking for stocks in nice rising channels and where the stock is currently near the bottom of the channel.
If a stock is of interest, pull up a big chart of it (I use TradingView), draw your own lines, and look for potential trade levels (entry, stop loss, and profit target).
In order to take a trade, the Reward:Risk should ideally be 3:1 or more.
If a stock meets all these criteria, determine the position size based on the position size formula.
Make sure earnings aren’t coming out soon. If earnings come out in a few days this won’t give enough time for your trade to reach the target.
Then, place your orders.
This is one strategy. Practice it and it will serve you well when trend channels are present.
I also really like the cup and handle strategy. You can add that one to your arsenal as well.
By Cory Mitchell
The Complete Stock Swing Trading Course by Cory Mitchell, CMT focuses on 4 patterns that tend to occur in strong stocks right before an explosive move. It also looks at when to avoid trading trend channels and other strategies. Knowing when not to trade is just as important as taking trades.
Learn how to read market conditions, how to find potentially explosive trades, where to get in and get out, how to fine-tune trade selection, and how to manage risk.
This is a complete method for swing trading stocks, revealed in step-by-step video format.