Bull Flag Pattern 101: What it is & How to Trade With Itby@bybit
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Bull Flag Pattern 101: What it is & How to Trade With It

by BybitSeptember 7th, 2021
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Trading the bull flag pattern helps you spot continuations in price and capture large price swings with ease. The bull flag chart pattern is a technical pattern that provides an accurate entry to participate in a strong uptrend. Flag patterns are beneficial for trading after a breakout or during a strong trending market. It helps identify the areas where corrective action occurs before the previous trend continues. In the next section, we’ll learn how to identify a bull flag in real-time conditions and how to trade the bear flag.

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Trading the bull flag pattern helps you spot continuations in price and capture large price swings with ease. Usually, it’s tough to enter into a fast-moving trade within a market, but it’s easier to time the market with the bull flag chart pattern.

In fact! Did you know the most explosive moves in any market (stock, forex, commodity, or cryptocurrency) are the result of price pattern breakouts such as flags?

The best traders in the world have many trading strategies in their arsenal. However, one of the most popular is the bull flag pattern, along with its counterpart, the bear flag. These patterns allow traders to participate in trending markets, understand price moves, and establish low-risk entries.

Whether you’re a beginner or experienced trader, here’s an overview of what this chart pattern is all about. Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • What a bull flag pattern is
  • How to identify a bull flag in real-time conditions
  • How to trade the bull flag pattern
  • Practical examples of the bull flag 
  • Differences between bull and bearish flag
  • Pros and cons of the bullish flag

What Is a Bull Flag Pattern?

A bull flag is a technical pattern that provides an accurate entry to participate in a strong uptrend. Many professional traders use this continuation pattern to find the optimal place to trade with the trend.

It’s important to note that the bull flag pattern perfectly suits cryptocurrency market conditions because of the powerful trends from which savvy investors can benefit. Whether you intend to use this flag pattern for day trading or swing trading, it works very well. Flag patterns are beneficial for trading after a breakout or during a strong trending market.

In short, the main purpose of the bull flag pattern is to help you participate in the current momentum of the market. That means you can leverage the information it provides to determine entry levels where risk is low compared to the possible reward. From the visual perspective, this pattern has a previous strong movement to the upside (the pole) and then a consolidation that takes the form of a flag.

What Does a Bearish Flag Look Like?

The following BTCUSD 15-minute chart is an excellent example indicating the main elements that create the bull flag pattern.

In essence, the bullish flag formation has three main features:

  1. The prevailing uptrend, aka the pole
  2. A downward sloping consolidation, aka the flag
  3. The continuation following the break of the upper channel resistance

Identifying the Bull Flag

Identifying the bull flag formation in real-time provides an edge in the market, particularly for crypto traders. This is because it helps identify the areas where corrective action occurs before the previous trend continues.

First of all, however, we need to know the key features to look for when trading the bullish flag pattern. This chart pattern must include previous momentum, usually represented by consecutive bullish bars to the upside.

Later on, corrective action should take the form of consolidation. Usually, the price correction can be framed within a downtrend channel, pennants, triangles, or sideways action.

The third stage of the bull flag pattern is the break of the flag, which provides the ideal entry signal.

The bullish flag pattern’s initial profit target will be around the previous swing high, and the stop-loss order can be placed below the consolidation structure.

Additionally, the bull flag profit target can be established by measuring the distance in price between the flagpole’s base and the highest point of the flag. To pinpoint your exact profit target, you need to project the measured move to the upside starting from the breakout point.

The below BTCUSD 15-minute chart clarifies the details of this formation.

Finally, follow these steps to identify the bull flag pattern:

Step 1:

Identify directional movement to the upside. Usually, this momentum can be framed under consecutive bars to the upside, with very few retracements bars.

Step 2:

Wait for corrective action. Usually, this correction can be framed under a downtrend channel, where a structure like a lower low can be presented.

Step 3:

Define the breakout level to enter the order. More details about the trading execution are presented in the next section.

Flag vs. Pennant: Differences

At first glance, flag chart patterns look almost identical to pennant patterns. They are both continuation patterns that form whenever there’s a sharp price movement, followed by a sideways price movement. Usually, they only last around one to three weeks. But despite the similarities, there are indeed some differences. 

Typically, the pennant pattern is triangular. It’s normally characterized by converging trend lines, which occur when successive highs and lows form a trading range. With the steep move up or down, it’s consolidated in the pennant form, with descending resistance and rising support. Generally, you would want to use pennants in conjunction with other technical indicators to serve as confirmation. A good practice is to use the relative strength index (RSI) indicator to moderate during the consolidation phase and reach oversold levels.

A flag pattern forms when a steep rise (or fall) is first followed by trading in a narrow price range, then by a steep rise (or fall). Typically, a flag helps to make sure the candle closes above the resistance or support level (to confirm the price movement). 

To succeed in trading with flags or pennant chart patterns, it’s wise to always use volume as a guide to deciding on your entry and exit points of a target price. That’s because it’ll help you to confirm the breakouts and to speculate on the momentum after it.

Ultimately, the patterns may or may not be defined at a particular time. However, as long as you’re patient, they will form at the right time.

How to Trade the Bull Flag

Now that we know how to identify the bull flag pattern, it’s important to define specific criteria to understand how to trade it.

After the flag pattern has been identified, the entry should be located where the downtrend channel (the structure that frames the flag) fails to keep its downward momentum.

Placing a Long Entry

The long entry must be placed at the break of the flag, while the stop-loss order (risk) should ideally be placed below the consolidation flag. The first target should be around the previous swing high. If the trend is strong enough, the movement will continue.

Of course, trade management varies. It mainly depends on the style of each trader. Still, one good strategy is to close a part of the position around the previous swing high. Then, trail the stop-loss order based on a moving average or trend line.

The next example, a BTCUSD weekly chart, provides a detailed, step-by-step guide to identify a bull flag and trade it effectively.

First of all, the prevailing trend must have strong bullish momentum, as mentioned above. This momentum is usually framed under consecutive bullish bars to the upside, with very few corrective actions.

The directional movement is strong in the image below, and there are only a few small retracements.

Secondly, we must wait for the consolidation. In this case, after a lower high is made, a line for a downtrend channel can be drawn, and we can be ready for the break of the flag if it occurs.

When the flag is broken by the price, the long entry is triggered. At the same time, the stop loss would be placed at the opposite side of the flag pattern. The red area represents the risk (the amount of money that we may lose), and the green area represents the potential reward.

After the entry is triggered, it’s time to wait and see what happens. In this example, the price goes straight to the previous swing high. 

Managing Your Trade

Trade management should be done based on the trader’s risk profile. The fastest way to cash in some profits is to close only a portion of the position around the target area and let the rest of the position run. 

Alternatively, you can close the entire position all at once by projecting the flagpole price range to the upside. For this particular example, the price keeps going, making new highs.

Bear in mind that many bull flag trading strategies are based on different price formations and shapes of the flag. The period of consolidation that forms the flag can take the following shapes:

  1. Bull flag pennant (Unlike the standard bull flag pattern, the flag has converging trend lines during the consolidation period.)
  2. Symmetrical triangle
  3. Horizontal rectangle
  4. Downward channel

What Happens if There is a Breakout? 

The anatomy of a breakout consists of three stages:

  1. The consolidation phase (flag price structure) should be well-defined within two down-sloping parallel trend lines.
  2. The breakout phase, a genuine breakout, occurs when the price spikes through the upper resistance line. The key element is that the breakout needs to be accompanied by heavy volume.
  3. The confirmation phase, in which a breakout is confirmed by the price closing above the upper resistance line, along with sustained follow-through buying above the flag.

The consolidation that makes up the flag tends to have well-defined support and resistance levels. While the consolidation shows equilibrium between the forces of supply and demand, it can also be seen as the calm before the storm.

Because the prevailing trend is upward, there’s a higher probability of trend continuation and, subsequently, an upward breakout. Usually, investors who have accumulated and bought into the cryptocurrency during the initial rally still hold their bags. Then, during the consolidation phase, investors who have missed the initial drive-up will try to get their hands on the cryptocurrency as well.

The excessive buying interest will eventually cause an imbalance between supply and demand forces and drive the price higher.

In conclusion, it’s important to understand that most trends are the result of a breakout.

Bullish Flag vs. Bearish Flag

The difference between a bullish and a bearish flag is in the direction of the price movement. With the bullish flag, the idea is to participate in a strong uptrend. Meanwhile, with the bearish flag pattern, the idea is to trade short in the direction of the prevailing downtrend.

Cryptocurrency provides the opportunity to find both bullish and bearish flags. This is because it’s a market with high volatility (directional movements), where opportunities to trade long or short are presented almost daily, depending on the execution time frame.

Key Differences

In general terms, the trading concepts for a bullish flag listed in this guide can be applied to the bearish flag as well.

To better understand how to identify a bearish flag pattern and trade the continuation move, we’ll outline a trade example.

In the next image, an ETHUSD 10-minute chart, the price is trading sideways between the support of $1,685 and the resistance of $1,720 (the two areas are highlighted in light blue). Notice how the price breaks the support to the downside. At this point, there are only two possible outcomes:

  1. A continuation of the breakdown, in which the immediate downtrend continues.
  2. A failed breakout that reverses the prices back to the previous range.

Therefore, if we want to play the continuation for the breakout, we should wait for some corrective action (the flag) to participate in the downtrend.

The bearish flag pattern offers low-risk entry points if you enter on the breakout of the flag formation. We’ll use the same entry concepts that are applied to the bullish flag pattern.

In the next chart, we can see that the price makes a higher low, a point from which we can draw the flag. If the higher low is unable to hold, the ideal entry will be below that price structure.

The entry-level and stop-loss level is illustrated in the next chart.

At the next stage, the price eventually breaks below the flag and triggers the short entry.

The previous swing low is essential if we want to define the strength of the sellers — or, in other words, the strength of the downtrend. If the price is unable to break it, the downtrend might not have enough momentum. In this case, we may have to tighten our stop-loss order.

Effectively, after the price breaks the swing low, the downtrend continues to the next level of support (blue line).

This example illustrates the dynamic of how to spot and trade a bearish flag. It also clarifies the similarities with the bull flag pattern, which has the same core properties. The only difference between the bull flag and the bear flag is in the direction of the prevailing trend.

Is a Bull Flag Pattern Reliable?

In general, flag patterns and pennants are reliable. The bull flag has been proven to work and is used by profitable traders around the world. Of course, trading is full of uncertainties. Still, these indicators and chart patterns offer traders certain confidence. However, they come with a set of pros and cons — and bull or bear flags are no exception.

The Benefits

• A bull flag breakout provides a well-defined price level to enter a long trade. It establishes a clear place for the stop-loss order, thereby providing the right support for proper trade management.

• Usually, this pattern provides asymmetrical risk-to-reward scenarios in which the potential profit (target) is larger than the risk. In other words, it’s a pattern that offers the basis for a good risk management system.

• The bull flag pattern is a simple formation to use in a trending market. The steps to identify the pattern are clear-cut.

The Risks

The main risk of the bull flag pattern is the potential for misinterpretation of the market context. Some people may experience negative results executing this pattern because the context is not framed under a trending environment but, rather, a sideways market.

To minimize the risks and increase the chance of success, spend your time studying several bull flag charts so that you can get used to its action. This way, when it’s time to execute the pattern, it will come more naturally.

Closing Thoughts

To summarize, the bull flag pattern is fairly common. It signals the presence of a strong uptrend, and the break of the flag structure offers the best entry to maximize the risk-to-reward ratio. With the bull flag, crypto investors who have missed the initial run-up now have the opportunity to catch a runaway trend. Day trading a security, stock, or cryptocurrency requires risk management. As we all should know by now, no gains come without risks. As long as you’ve done a thorough analysis, you’re already halfway to success.