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Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 71% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading spread bets and CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how spread bets and CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

What is a false breakout and how can you avoid it?

Avoid one of the most common pitfalls of investing or trading – the false breakout. Find out what a false breakout is and how to avoid being taken in by one. Plus, learn how to make the most of real breakout when they happen.

Trader Source: Bloomberg

What is a false breakout?

A false breakout is a failed breakout – so, before we can unpack one, it’s important to ascertain what a ‘real’ breakout is.

A breakout is a market movement that happens when an asset class (eg stocks) breaks out of its normal price range, either the support level or resistance level. When the market price shoots significantly higher or lower than usual, that’s called a breakout.

However, in order for something to truly be considered a breakout, this momentum has to be sustained, and can’t simply be a brief uptick in price. If a stock or another underlying asset rises out of its support or resistance level, only to revert back down again shortly afterwards, this is what’s known as a false breakout.

Find out everything you need to know about breakout stocks

Breakouts vs false breakouts: the difference


Breaks through (rises above) the resistance level and continues to appreciate in price or breaks through (dips below) the support level and continues to depreciate in price.

False breakout

Breaks through (rises above) the resistance level or breaks through (dips below) the support level, but only momentarily – failing to sustain momentum.

How to identify false breakout patterns

It can be tricky to identify when a breakout is genuine and when it’s a ‘failed break’, as false breakouts are sometimes called. Fortunately, there are ways to recognise them.

One of the simplest ways to identify a false breakout is to make a note of how long it lasts. Because failed breaks are fleeting, watching your chosen asset for a while is often an effective way to tell if a breakout is genuine or not.

Similarly, you need to have studied your market well, as all of them have histories of false breakouts and true breakouts over time. This can help to you recognise where a current break may resemble previous ones that turned out to be false. Just remember that past performance isn’t always an indicator of future results, so let these figures inform you rather than decide for you.

Another crucial step to identifying a failed break is technical analysis, to help you to determine what your chosen market’s support and resistance levels are. This provides key insights when trying to differentiate between a breakout and a false breakout.

That’s because, generally, a breakout is more likely to be false when it hits the same support or resistance level a number of times, but has always pulled back from this point before. However, the more unusual it is for an underlying asset to break through a certain price range, the more likely it’s driven by true momentum and high volumes – often the sign of a true breakout.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of false breakout patterns that occur:

  • A bull trap: when a market looks set to trend higher than it has before, by breaking out of its upper resistance level. However, the price drops down again, confirming it was a false breakout
  • A bear trap: the opposite of a bull trap, where a market drops down lower than its normal support level, but then rallies before it can be a true breakout

How to avoid a false breakout

It can be almost impossible to tell a true breakout from a failed break if you don’t know what you’re doing. Here are four ways to avoid a failed break:

Take it slow

One of the simplest ways to avoid a false breakout is also one of the most challenging for many traders and investors – to simply wait. Instead of buying in to the trend the moment your asset breaks through its support or resistance level, give it a few days (depending, of course, on your trading style and its timeline) and watch as, often, the failed breaks simply weed themselves out.

Watch your candles

A more advanced version of waiting it out, a candlestick chart can come in handy. When you suspect a breakout is happening, wait till the candle closes to confirm its strength. The stronger the breakout appears, the more likely it’s not a failed break.

While this can be an effective way to identify false breakouts, many traders and investors don’t have the time to sit and watch their chosen chart around the clock. That’s why, with us, you can set alerts to notify you of the specific market conditions you’re waiting for. In the case of a breakout, for example, you’d create an alert based on candle’s close price, to notify you of any potential breakouts.

Use multiple timeframe analysis

Another efficient way to identify breakouts, and what of those are likely failed breaks, is multiple timeframe analysis. This entails watching your chosen market using a variety of different timeframes. When using this technique, you’d likely spot the potential for a breakout in the short term, then ‘zoom out’ to view that same market over a week, a month or even longer before opening a position.

This helps with identifying a false breakout because you’re paining perspective of your asset over both the longer and shorter term. Studying its patterns can show if what you think is a breakout is actually significant in the context of that market.

Know the ‘usual suspects’

Some patterns in charts can indicate the likelihood of a false breakout. These include ascending triangles, the head and shoulders pattern and flag formations.

Learning how to identify these patterns can help you to tell the difference between a breakout and a false breakout, as these three formations are often associated with failed breaks. For example, ascending triangles are indicators of a temporary market correction, rather than a true breakout.

How to invest in or trade a false breakout

While it may sound counterintuitive, there are also times when you may want to take a position on false breakouts.

For example, say you’re an investor with your eye on a certain market. Because investing seeks to profit from a rising share price, you may want to buy low and sell high – meaning you’d target a ‘bear trap’ and buy in to the market once its price dips below the support level.

If this is indeed a false breakout and the market bounces back, you could sell your shares to benefit from this increase in value. However, there’s also the chance that the market will instead continue to fall (a true breakout), which means that your shares would be less valuable.

To invest in a false breakout you’d:

  1. Create a live share dealing account
  2. Select a share from thousands on our platform
  3. Do technical analysis on your chosen market to identify false breakouts
  4. Take steps to manage your risk
  5. Open and monitor your first position

If you’re a trader, you may want to use a false breakout as an opportunity to profit from a rising or falling market. Say you want to trade on the value of gold. Its price rises beyond the current resistance level and you think that this is a bull trap.

In this case, you may want to go short on the market to try and profit from the anticipated decline. If the market does fall and you closed your position, you’d have made a profit. As with the example above, if this is a true breakout and the market continues to rise, you could make a loss on your trade.

To trade a false breakout you’d:

  1. Decide whether you want to trade spread bets or CFDs with us
  2. Create a live account for spread betting or CFD trading, or for both
  3. Do technical analysis on your chosen market to identify false breakouts
  4. Take steps to manage your risk, including stop orders and limit orders
  5. Open and monitor your first trade

How to trade breakouts

Here’s how to trade breakouts with us:

  1. Create a live account or practise first with a demo account
  2. Learn the signs of a market about to break out – you can find out far more about breakouts by upskilling yourself on IG Academy
  3. Open your first position
  4. Plan your exit from the position carefully, including setting stop orders and limit orders
  5. Take steps to manage your risk

Everything you need to know about trading breakout stocks

False breakouts summed up

  • A false breakout is a significant movement out of a market’s normal support or resistance levels that doesn’t last – hence it ‘fails’
  • These can cause costly mistakes for traders and investors, thinking a market has hit a true breakout and to go long or invest, only for it to lose momentum shortly afterwards
  • You can avoid false breakouts – or trade them intentionally – by studying your chosen market and knowing the chart patterns timeframes and other signs of a failed break
  • With us, you can trade on breakouts and failed breaks using spread bets or CFDs. You can also take a position on a breakout stock as an investor using our share dealing platform

This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Markets 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. See full non-independent research disclaimer and quarterly summary.

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