The Gap Primer
Gaps are shock events that jolt price up or down and leave an "open window" to the last bar. Market folklore (such as the infamous "gaps get filled") seems to offer guidance, but in reality it has little value. After all, many gaps never get filled. So how can we use these one-bar wonders to make good trades and increase profits?
The first thing to do is figure out what kind of gap you're dealing with. It should fall into one of these three categories:
- Breakaway gaps appear as markets break out into new trends, up or down.
- Continuation gaps print about halfway through trends, when enthusiasm or fear overpowers reason.
- Exhaustion gaps burn out trends with one last surge of emotion.
Certain trades work best with each gap type, so proper identification is extremely important. Use relative location and key characteristics to place them into the right category. There is also a psychological aspect to recognizing the correct gap. Breakaway gaps "surprise" because they appear suddenly on charts you've ignored. Continuation gaps "frustrate" because they pop up where you think price should reverse. Exhaustion gaps "relieve" because they print after you hold on for too long.
Trade the trend on the first pullback to a breakaway or continuation gap. In other words, buy the decline after a rally, or sell the rally after a decline. The odds favor a reversal back in the primary direction, even if these gaps fill. However, the pullback trade often requires great patience. Markets retest breakout gaps right after they occur, but many bars can pass before price returns to test a continuation gap.
Use the continuation gap to target major reversals. The first test usually occurs after closure of the exhaustion gap. But you can't trade it if you can't find it, so here's a trick: Wait until you can count three price moves, up or down. Then place a Fibonacci grid across the entire trend and look for a continuation gap at the 50% level. If you find one, place a limit order within the gap and wait for a test to occur. The retracement should provide enough support or resistance to force a reversal. Once the gap is filled, place a trailing stop and keep it close behind current price action.
Modern markets fill many continuation gaps for a bar or two before they reverse. If you're a defensive trader, place your order within this extreme price level. Many times you won't get filled, but you'll save yourself whipsaws from entering too early. Keep in mind the filled gap presents low risk only when volume remains flat and price doesn't gap back through the old gap to get there.
Exhaustion gaps print blowoffs that end a trend. This last burst of energy can occur on high volume, but the lack of it doesn't change the outcome. Exhaustion gaps fill easily, with price often heading lower in a hurry. After this reversal, use multiple time frame analysis to plan your next move. For example, an exhaustion gap may also print a continuation gap in the next larger time frame. Be patient if this sounds confusing. Seeing this three-dimensional landscape requires a sharp eye and a lot of charting experience.