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Pattern Scalping Strategy

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This article is part of our guide on how to use scalping techniques to trade forex. If you haven’t already we recommend you read the first part of series on forex scalping.

Most scalpers try to benefit from price patterns in trading the markets. Those who like calmer markets choose to exploit formations like triangles and flags, while those who prefer trading the news tend to be active during breakouts. There’s no single type of market where scalping can be applied to best benefit, because there are many different kinds of scalpers. But there are some technical patterns which offer their greatest benefits to a scalping strategy, and those are the patterns which we’ll examine here.

First we’ll take a look at scalping during breakouts, and then study ranges. Afterwards we’ll discuss trend-scalping with fibonacci levels under a separate heading.

a. News Breakouts

The most typical and significant breakouts observed on any trading day are those associated with important news releases, regardless of their nature. Volatility maybe caused by an unexpected government announcement, at other times a surprising result from a statistical release, and sometimes a mundane piece of data which the markets choose to interpret in an agitated manner. The characteristic of these events is a rapid rise in volatility: a strong initial movement which then has aftershocks, so to speak, lasting over hours and generating swings and fluctuations which are then exploited by scalpers. Scalping in the aftermath of news releases is different from scalping in stale, range bound conditions with respect to its stop-loss requirement, the average life of a trade, and the necessary risk controls.

Although this kind of scalping has some resemblance to fundamental trading, in fact it is a purely technical approach, and has little to do with the real nature or significance of the news or data releases. It is not possible to fully evaluate the meaning of a piece of economic data in the ten minutes where market reaction is most intense, and as such, there is no point in giving fundamental meanings to the market’s behavior during the same time period. This is especially the case when we consider that news releases are revised frequently, and sometimes drastically following the initial release. (read our article on trading on news releases)

News Breakout Chart

In the above graph we have the hourly EURUSD chart and the highlighted region shows the immediate price reaction to the news release at 8 am, followed by its subsequent legs. As soon as the important piece of news was released the market generated a rapidly increasing momentum which never gave traders a chance to look back. The maximum value around 1.4290 was also the opening price of the hourly bar, and it was never revisited. It is easy to conjecture that soon after the release, and in the period immediately preceding it, spreads had widened significantly, and opportunities for scalping were limited. Yet, right after the news release liquidity came gushing back to the market, as traders hastened to readjust their positions. Favorable conditions for scalping would exist within about ten minutes after the news release.

The most important rule while exploiting a news breakout is to stay away from the market during the short period around the news release itself. Unless one is using automated tools for scalping, this brief period is too agitated, and chaotic to allow informed decisions. Worse yet, in the short term the brief but powerful widening of spreads makes technical planning an insurmountable task at times. Instead, a successful scalper will use this brief period to identify the possible direction of the market before entering positions in accordance.

In the example above, we’d be able to scalp the market for a four-hour long period, during the four red candles in the highlighted area. The best way to ensure against suffering losses in the volatility of this period is using a reasonably tight stop with a somewhat looser take-profit order. In example, if we open a short position at around 1.4250 during the third hour, with a 3-pip spread cost to be paid to the forex broker, we’ll place our stop loss at 1.4255, while our take profit order will be at around 1.4240. This would ensure a 2:1 risk-reward ratio for the position being maintained.

It is a good idea to add a time-stop to a scalping position as well. What is a time stop? This is a kind of stop order which will close a position once a certain period of time is reached, regardless of the amount of profit or loss involved (although of course, both the potential loss or profit are less than what would be indicated by the stop-loss or take profit orders). For example, in our previous example, we had placed our stop loss at 1.4255, while our take profit order was at 1.4240. When we add the time-stop to our initial order at, say, 2 minutes, we’ll close and exit our position two minutes after its opening regardless of the profit or loss involved in the trade.

Why do we use the time stop? We had defined previously that as scalpers we don’t want to be exposed to the markets for a long time. But the market does not need to listen to our expectations, and might as well refuse to hit both the stop-loss and take-profit points for a long of period (at least in the terms of the scalper). The longer we expose ourselves to market moves, the greater the risk of a sudden, sharp movement against our expectations. In order to prevent being caught in such an indecisive, but also dangerous market, we use to time stop as a safety valve allowing us to bail out of our positions if things don’t turn out as we had initially expected.

Scalping of news breakouts can be very profitable, because all the ideal conditions required by scalpers are present. The swift, large, moves which occur in the brief timeframe during which scalpers are willing to expose themselves to the market allow the formulation of profitable forex scalping strategies.

b. Technical breakouts

What we term a technical breakout is the case where a range breaks down without any obvious news catalyst. News are released continuously all over the world during the trading day, and although it is often possible to tie a piece of the price action arbitrarily to a piece of news being released somewhere in the world, it is not always practical to identify what causes what in the chaotic trading environment with any certainty or exactitude. These seemingly inexplicable, sudden and difficult to predict breakouts will be termed technical breakouts in this text.

Scalping this kind of breakout requires a lot more conservatism in comparison to the scalping of the usual news breakout. There is very little clarity as to what is causing what, and a market that is up may soon reverse and go down with little or no warning. To avoid being caught up in the chaos of such conditions, it is a good idea to use even smaller trade sizes, sensible stop-loss orders,

Technical Breakouts Chart

In this chart we see the hourly movements of the USDJPY pair confined between 94.02 and 94.71. The highlighted area shows the region we would like to trade. Since the established range rests between support and resistance levels which are tested only twice, we would not have had the opportunity to trade the range itself developing on 28-29 July for profit, using scalping or any other method. On the other hand, we are ready to do some scalping in order to exploit the breakout which occurs at around 7 am on 29th July.

The volatile nature of breakout is demonstrated by the green candle next to the small red arrow on the chart where we see observe the closing price of the bar only slightly above the resistance line displayed. Scalping is suitable conditions such as these because scalpers do not need to think long and hard about the ultimate direction of the price. In the timeframe of a one or two hours, five, ten minutes, the price action is more or less random, and it is not very sensible to try to seek logical explanations for it. Scalpers can avoid doing so, and that is their advantage in breakout scenarios, and similar sudden and unpredictable markets.

While scalping this breakout, we’d use a chart with a shorter term, and not the hourly graph which we see above. Fortunately, the fractal nature of price charts allows us to trade a 5-minute chart in a way the same way that we trade a 5-month chart; the scalper only needs to apply the general rules of technical trading to the shorter time frame. The key issue is making sure that you’re on board the trend, or in harmony with the phase of the range pattern (up, or down) while scalping.

c. Range Patterns

A scalper trading a range pattern will try to identify the time periods and price patterns where activity is most subdued, and will exploit them for profit. We have already discussed some of the general concepts in trading ranges, here we’ll try to apply them in greater detail.

Price charts are similar to fractals. They are self-similar at multiple time periods, with a price range at 30 minutes sometimes accompanied by a trend on a 30 second chart. While trading ranges scalpers must keep both the hourly, and the minutely price events in mind. We’ll use hourly charts to ensure that overall activity in the market is subdued, while using the short term price action to identify and trade profitable periods.

Range Breakout Chart

The hourly chart of the USDCHF pair presents an interesting scenario for scalpers. A large hourly range lasting for a number of days is coupled to fairly strong directional movements requiring some trend following skills for successful exploitation.

At this stage, observing the price action in the chart, we must ask ourselves the question: can we determine the severity of short-term volatility by examining charts which show long term activity? The answer is no. Although we can determine the ultimate direction of short term price movements by examining long term charts, volatility on an hourly chart, for example, does not need to be duplicated on a short term chart exactly. The price may move 100-pips in the course of an hour, and the chart would show a large green candlestick, but all that large movement could have happened in the last ten minutes of trading, with the previous fifty minutes presenting choppy, and boring conditions. In other words, the scalper must concentrate on the time period before him, especially if he is aiming to exploit random price movements that go nowhere (as in range trading), in contrast to scalping a strong directional trend. In the latter, the perspective provided by long term charts may be helpful, but in range scalping utmost attention must be devoted to the 1-minute, 5-minute graph which is being traded.

In the graph above the price is confined between 1.0654, and 1.0741. The three red arrows show us the opportunities where we can be confident that the range will hold: when the resistance line is tested for the third time, we will consider this an opportunity for sell-side scalping. When, at around 27th July 5 am the price rebounds from the support line for a second time, and later for a third, we’ll regard the market conditions as being ideal for establishing long positions repeatedly.

d. Flags

Many scalpers prefer to exploit range patterns as they present quiet, tame conditions where various strategies can be utilizied without the danger of large losses which would arise in conditions of high volatility. Scalpers who thrive in these conditions have no great expectations from individual trades, and are perfectly content with unexciting, slow markets where “nothing is going on”, from the point of view of a trend follower. In spite of the brief lifetime, and small profit of individual trades, great gains are realized as profits of several hours are combined at the end of the trading day.

Flags Chart

In this fifteen minute chart of the USDCHF pair we observe a strong hourly trend only briefly interrupted by the highlighted flags. Although the formations are not perfect, they are perfect as continuation patterns, and present quite, subdued periods where the scalper can test his skills. Of the three flags highlighted in this chart, the first and the third are the tamest, and the easiest to exploit. In both of these the price moves up and down in a simple range, and doesn’t possess directionality.

How does the trader exploit this situation? In essence we’ll regard the flags as small range patterns the upper and lower bound of which can be used as trigger points telling us to reverse the direction of our trade. When the price rises and approaches the upper edge of the flag, we won’t trade, but wait until it is reversed and a sell order is possible (we don’t want to enter a sell order immediately because of the possibility of a breakout). After that we’ll enter and exit small and quick sell orders trying to exploit the established range pattern. Conversely, when the price falls and touches the lower bound of the flag pattern, we’ll wait until it begins to rise again, and then we’ll scalp the market with buy orders.

It is quite simple and easy to scalp the market when there are flags appearing. But flags are very strong continuation patterns, and we must be careful not to get caught in the breakout when the flag pattern dissipates and gives way to the momentum of the main trend.

Triangles can be traded in the same manner as well, and any consolidation pattern can be used for scalping within the range established. As we mentioned before, the rules of range trading can be applied, along with the appropriate strategies, while using the necessary risk controls inside the preferred brief time frame of scalpers.

Next >> Using Fibonacci Levels for Scalping the Forex Market >>

Previous << Two different Scalping Strategies <<

Further reading for beginners on a number of well known technical patterns.


Risk Statement: Trading Foreign Exchange on margin carries a high level of risk and may not be suitable for all investors. The possibility exists that you could lose more than your initial deposit. The high degree of leverage can work against you as well as for you.


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