Why should you watch a 52-week high or low indicator?

(Updated October 2021)

52-Week High/Low - Should You Buy Or Sell Stocks
When you see a stock going to its 52-week high or low, what is your first reaction? Do you think you should sell or buy it? This is a difficult part and we will explain why.

A 52-week high or low is a technical indicator and every investor or trader should keep an eye on these tables because it is the simplest way to monitor how our stocks are doing. For example, you want to buy some stocks and this can be the best way to check their recent prices. A 52-week high or low will help you to determine a stock’s value and usually can help to understand the future price changes. 

Investors often refer to the 52-week high and low when looking at the stock’s current price. When the price is nearing the 52-week low, the general opinion is it is a good time to buy. But when the stock price is approaching the 52-week high, it can be a good sign to sell the stocks.

So, the 52-week high or low values might help to set the entry or exit point of your trade.

Prices of stocks change constantly, showing the highest and lowest values at different periods of time in the market. A number marked as the highest or lowest stock price over the period of the past 52 weeks is called its 52-week high/ low.

How to determine the 52-week high or low

It is based on the daily closing prices. Don’t be surprised if you can’t recognize some stock. Stocks can break a 52-week high intra-day, it may end up at a much lower price, a lot below the prior 52-week high. When that happens, the stocks are unrecognized. The same comes when the stock price hits the new 52-week low over the trading session but doesn’t succeed to close at a new low. 

Well, the stock’s inability to make a new closing 52-week high or low can be very important.

If you watch the prices for some stock, for example, over a particular period of time, you will notice that sometimes the price is higher than others but sometimes it is lower than all others.
The 52-week high or low for the price of any actively traded stock (also any security) shows the highest and lowest price over the previous year that is expressed as 52 weeks.

For example, let’s assume you are looking at changes in the price for some stock over the prior year. You found that the stock traded at $150 per share at its highest and $80 at its lowest. So, the 52-week high or low for that stock was $150/$80.

When to buy a stock

What do you think? Is it better to buy stock from the 52-week low record or from the 52-week high record? You can find these lists on financial sites like Yahoo Finance, for example. On one side you have stocks with new highs and on the other, you have stocks with new lows. What would you choose?

This isn’t a trick question. If you follow the rule “buy low, sell high” you might think that some stock from a 52-week low list can be a great opportunity. You may consider it an unfortunate event and suppose the stock price will go up. Remember, you have only this information – highs and lows. Buying stocks at the bottom can be a good choice but you don’t have other important information about the company to make a proper investment decision. So, when making your decision based only on one info, you are gambling. You have no guarantees that the “bottomed out” stock will go up to the top or catch upward momentum. So, you will need more information to pick the stock from the list.

But the dilemma may come the same with stocks from the 52-week high list. You might think these companies are successful and the progress will continue. Well, sincerely, you might be right. The company’s management is doing something good. There are a lot of chances for that stock to keep moving forward. So, you will make a slightly better guess than buying stock from the 52-week low list. 

You see, the rule “buy low, sell high” isn’t always accurate. You don’t have any hint that stock from the bottom will ever come out.

The 52-week high or low is just an indicator of potential buying or selling. To do that you will need more information.

Trading based on the 52-week high

What’s going on when stock prices are heading toward a 52-week high? They are rising, it is obvious. But some traders know that the 52-week highs represent a high-risk. The stocks rarely exceed this level in a year. This problem stops many traders from opening positions or adding to existing positions. Also, others are selling their shares.

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But why? The rise in the stock price is good news, right? Profit is growing, the future earnings outlooks are bullish. This can keep prices successful, at least for a week, sometimes for a month. If the news is really good and fundamentals show the strong result the stock breaks beyond the 52-week high, share volume greatly grows and the stock can jump over the average market gains.

But how long can this effect last?

The truth is (based on research, one important is Volume and Price Patterns Around a Stock’s 52-Week Highs and Lows: Theory and Evidence, authors Steven J. Huddart, Mark H. Lang, and Michelle Yetman) shows that the excess gains decrease with time. This research reveals that small stocks initially provide the biggest gains. But, they usually decrease in the following weeks. Large stocks generate greater gains initially, but smaller than small stocks do. So, excess gains that generate small stocks far pass these the larger stocks generate during the first week or month following the cross above the 52-week highs.

This is very important data for traders and their trading strategy would be to buy small-cap stocks at the moment when the stock price is going just above the 52-week high. That will provide them excess gains in the next weeks, according to the research mentioned above.

Intra-Day 52-Week High and Low Reversals

A stock that makes a 52-week high intra-day but closes negative may have topped out. This means the price may not go higher the next day or days. Traders use 52-week highs to lock in gains. Stocks hitting new 52-week highs are usually the most sensitive to profit-taking. That may result in trend reversals and pullbacks.

The sign of a bottom is when a stock price hits a new 52-week low intra-day but misses to reach a new closing 52-week low. This happens when a stock trades is notably lower than its opening, but rallies later to close above or near the opening price. This is a signal for short-sellers. They are buying to cover their positions.

Bottom line

To conclude, the strategy of buying stocks from the 52-week high list breaks the rule buying low. Yes, but hold on! The rule “not buy at high” can be applied to stocks that unnaturally bid up some kind of market over-reach. For example, the stock whose price has surged 30% over a single day. Drop it out! Neglect them.
You want stocks with steady growth over a long time into the list. When you recognize such stocks, start to evaluate them. Examine every single detail about the company.

Buying for bargains is a good strategy, but it is also a good cause for selling a stock at or near its 52-week low.

Finding the winners can be trickier. One suggestion, start from the top and eliminate every stock with an unrealistic increase. They are on the top by mistake, trust us. Find stable winners. Do we have any valid proof that they will not continue to rise? Of course, they can.
If you want to trade based on the 52-week high effect, keep in mind, it is most functional in the very short-term. The largest profits come from rarely traded stocks with small and micro-cap.

Remember, the 52-week high or low represents the highest and lowest price at which a stock has traded in the prior year, expressed in weeks. It is a technical indicator. The 52-week high describes a resistance level and the 52-week low represents a support level. Traders use these prices to set the purchase or sale of their stock.

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