Bull flag is a sharp, strong volume
rally on a positive fundamental
development, several days of
sideways to lower price action on
much weaker volume followed by
a second, sharp rally to new highs
on strong volume.
The technical target is derived by
adding the height of the flag pole
to the eventual breakout level at
• Bull flag formations involve two distinct parts, a near vertical, high volume flag pole and a parallel, low volume consolidation comprised of four points and an upside breakout.
• The actual flag formation of a bull flag pattern must be less than 20 trading sessions in duration.
• Most flag patterns occur at the middle of the larger move higher for a stock.
• Upside breakouts often lead to small 2-3% rallies followed by an immediate test of the breakout level.
If the stock closes below this level (now support) for any reason the pattern becomes invalid.
Bulls flags are favored among technical traders because they almost always lead to large and predicable price moves. Like all continuation patterns, bull flags represent little more than a brief lull in a larger move higher. Indeed, in many cases the flag pattern will actually take shape in the middle of the ultimate move higher. Bull flags occur because stocks rarely move higher in a straight line for an extended period, instead, the move higher is broken up by brief periods where traders "catch their breath".
The first part of the flag pattern is often called the flagpole or mast. During this phase the stock price skyrockets to a reaction high (a) on some positive fundamental development. Very often this will be the unveiling of a new product, a favorable legal resolution or positive earnings surprise but the change in price is near vertical as would be sellers are overwhelmed by new buyers caught-up in the euphoria of the moment. As the stock soars speculators that were smart enough to have purchased the stock at lower levels begin selling.
At this point the second phase or flag portion of the bull flag begins. Because the flow of news and investor sentiment is overwhelming positive, most of the stock sold by speculators is easily absorbed in the beginning but as time passes fewer investors seem willing to pay the current price. Slowly, the stock price begins to falter on dramatically reduced volume. The descent is slow because bullish sentiment is still very strong.
After several days of minor weakness, a rally begins and a minor low is set (b). Sensing an opportune time to enter new positions buyers begin to return, pushing the stock very near the most recent high but because volume is light this rally is easily rebuffed and a slightly lower high (c) is established before the price turns
lower. The new round of selling sends the stock modestly lower on reduced volume. After several more sessions the stock moves below the lows made at point (a) but volume contracts further. Just as it begins to look as though a real decline is underway there is a new positive fundamental development and the stock begins to move higher (d). As the rally accelerates volume increases dramatically, buyers overwhelm those taking profits. Over the next 1-2 sessions the stock moves through the high set at point (c) and volumesurges further. This triggers an upside breakout point (e). The next session several Wall Street firms either make new "buy" recommendations or reiterate existing recommendations. The stock opens higher and goes on to make significant new highs in the weeks ahead.