What is a bear trap and how does it work?
A bear trap is a reversal against a bearish price trend. It can force traders to cover their short positions to prevent further losses. Learn more about bear traps, including how to identify them and how to avoid them.
What's on this page?
What is a bear trap in trading?
A bear trap is a reversal against a bearish move that may force traders to abandon their short positions in the face of rising losses. It's called a trap because it often catches traders off-guard, and it comes on the back of a decline in the market that looks likely to continue.
How does a bear trap work?
A bear trap can occur in shares, indices, commodities, currencies or any other financial instrument. After a strong upward rally, the price of the asset looks to have encountered strong resistance and starts to decline. This prompts bearish traders to open short positions, hoping to profit from a further decline in the price. However, if the decline proves to be temporary, the price starts to move higher once again. The traders have been trapped and typically cover their short positions.
Bear traps often occur after the security has had an extended move higher and the price appears to have failed to move above a key technical resistance level. The asset likely looks overvalued when considering fundamental analysis.
The opposite of a bear trap is a bull trap. This is where traders go long on an asset, believing the downtrend is over because the asset has started to rally. But, the downtrend resumes soon after, leaving holders of the asset 'long and wrong' as the price declines once again.
How to identify a bear trap
Bear traps can be difficult to identify. It's typically only after the short squeeze rises and the trade has gone wrong that the bear trap becomes evident.
Bear traps can be short-lived, but they’re normally characterised by a sharp move higher on increased volumes. If a security’s price moves with increased volume, that gives the move more credibility.
However, you should always do your research and plan ahead of trading.* Tou can do this by carrying out both fundamental analysis and technical analysis to understand the key drivers of an asset. In the absence of any news, the fundamentals of a company are unlikely to change materially in the space of a few days. However, the technical picture can change rapidly. This will likely be your primary focus when identifying a bear trap.
Technical analysis has a huge array of indicators that can be used to identify important support and resistance levels. These indicators include the Fibonacci retracements tool, moving average (MA), moving average convergence/divergence (MACD), and Bollinger Bands.
You can monitor the open short interest in a share to see how crowded the short is.1,2,3 The larger the short position as a percentage of free float or average daily volume, the more potential risk there is of a bear trap forming, as more traders may be forced to cover their short position.
*Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Bear trap example
Bed Bath & Beyond is a company that has seen several bear traps. In 2022, Bed Bath & Beyond's fundamentals were weak, with around US$3 billion of debt and little cash on its balance sheet. With its business struggling, and investors questioning whether the company could continue, traders identified an opportunity for short selling.
There have been several sharp rallies that could be considered bear traps for Bed Bath & Beyond company shares. The largest was in the middle of 2022. In June and July of that year, the stock was drifting lower. But in August, the share price started to rally – slowly at first, and then more rapidly. It went from around US$5 to US$23.
In this example, the volume and share price both accelerated. These increases could have been considered a warning that a bear trap was forming. The share price eventually underwent a sharp reversal, falling to US$1.66 in January 2023. But for those who were short, that sell-off was too late. Many were forced to cover, as the share price rallied strongly and the losses became too big to handle. They had been caught in the bear trap.
Despite the fundamentals of the company remaining weak, the share price still managed a strong rally on more than one occasion. Technical analysis may help to identify bear traps such as this one.
How to avoid a bear trap
You could avoid a bear trap using a stop order to help manage your risk. There are types of stop orders, including trailing and guaranteed stops. To avoid a bear trap, a trailing stop could probably help you the most as it tracks the current market value by a set amount of points, and it will automatically close your position if the market value rallies by that set amount.
This will help you to lock in as much profit as possible, while also cutting losses early on into a bear trap.
How to trade a bear trap
- Do your research about the different markets
- Open a live contract for difference (CFD) trading account with us or practise using a demo account
- Select your opportunity: you can trade on assets such as shares, indices, foreign exchanges or commodities
- Open the position and manage your risk
- Monitor your trade
With us, you’ll trade using CFDs, you take a position on price movements – whether you think it’ll go up or down – rather than owning the shares outright. CFD trading is leveraged, so you could gain or lose money quickly – including the potential to lose more than the initial deposit paid to open the position as potential profits and losses are magnified to the full value of the trade. It's useful to keep in mind that past performance isn't a guarantee of future patterns.
With CFDs, your currency exposure and initial margin will vary according to which asset you choose to trade on. To manage risk when trading CFDs, many traders set stop-loss orders to try prevent outsized losses.
Bear trap trading summed up
- You can use fundamental and technical analysis to identify and trade bear traps
- You can trade bear traps from both the long side and the short side
- Trading risk management measures, such as stop losses, is important when trading bear traps due to increased volatility
This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Limited. In addition to the disclaimer below, the material on this page does not contain a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Consequently any person acting on it does so entirely at their own risk. Any research provided does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any specific person who may receive it. It has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such is considered to be a marketing communication. Although we are not specifically constrained from dealing ahead of our recommendations we do not seek to take advantage of them before they are provided to our clients.
CFDs are a leveraged products. CFD trading may not be suitable for everyone and can result in losses that exceed your initial deposit, so please ensure that you fully understand the risks involved.