Stock Quotes in this Article: HWAY, NKTR, VRX

MADISON, Wis. (Stockpickr) -- Professional traders running mutual funds and hedge funds don't just look at a stock's price moves; they also track big changes in volume activity. Often when above-average volume moves into an equity, it precedes a large spike in volatility.

Major moves in volume can signal unusual activity, such as insider buying or selling -- or buying or selling by "superinvestors."

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Unusual volume can also be a major signal that hedge funds and momentum traders are piling into a stock ahead of a catalyst. These types of traders like to get in well before a large spike, so it's always a smart move to monitor unusual volume. That said, remember to combine trend and price action with unusual volume. Put them all together to help you decipher the next big trend for any stock.

With that in mind, let's take a look at several stocks rising on unusual volume today.

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Valeant Pharmaceuticals

Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) is a specialty pharmaceutical company that develops, manufactures and markets a broad range of pharmaceutical products primarily in the areas of neurology, dermatology and branded generics. This stock closed up 0.6% at $86.41on Wednesday.

Wednesday's Volume: 8.34 million

Average Volume: 1.77 million

Volume % Change: 418%

Shares of VRX jumped modestly higher on Wednesday after the company said it raised $2 billion in an offering of its common shares, which will be used to help fund its planned $8.7 billion acquisition of global eye-care company Bausch & Lomb.

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From a technical perspective, VRX bounced higher here right above some near-term support at $82 with heavy upside volume. This move is quickly pushing shares of VRX within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade. That trade will hit if VRX manages to take out some near-term overhead resistance at $88.67 with high volume.

Traders should now look for long-biased trades in VRX as long as it's trending above some key near-term support $83.86 and then once it sustains a move or close above $88.67 with volume that hits near or above 1.77 million shares. If we get that breakout soon, then VRX will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major overhead resistance levels at $92 to $92.50. Any high-volume move above those levels will then put its next major overhead resistance level at $96.25 into range for shares of VRX.

Nektar Therapeutics

Nektar Therapeutics (NKTR) is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing a pipeline of drug candidates that utilize its PEGylation and polymer conjugate technology platforms, which are designed to improve the benefits of drugs for patients. This stock closed up 11.6% at $10.95 on Wednesday.

Wednesday's Volume: 2.73 million

Average Volume: 878,311

Volume % Change: 202%

Shares of NKTR ripped higher on Wednesday after the company reported positive top-line results for experimental drug NKTR-181 to treat chronic pain.

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From a technical perspective, NKTR skyrocketed higher back above its 50-day moving average of $10.06 with heavy upside volume. This move is quickly pushing shares of NKTR within range of triggering a major breakout trade, which will hit if NKTR manages to take out some near-term overhead resistance levels at $10.91 to $11.34. NKTR hit an intraday high of $11.07 on Wednesday, and volume was well above its three-month average action of 878,311 shares.

Traders should now look for long-biased trades in NKTR as long as it's trending above its 50-day at $10.06 and then once it sustains a move or close above those breakout levels with volume that hits near or above 878,311 shares. If that breakout triggers soon, then NKTR will set up to enter new 52-week-high territory above $11.34, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that breakout are $13 to $14.

Healthways

Healthways (HWAY) provides well-being improvement solutions that help people improve their physical, emotional and social well-being, thereby improving their health and productivity and reducing their health-related costs. This stock closed up 8.3% to $15.18 on Wednesday.

Wednesday's Volume: 391,000

Average Volume: 175,280

Volume % Change: 118%

Shares of HWAY ripped higher on Wednesday after William Blair analyst Ryan Daniels said the company is emerging as a strong growth story again.

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From a technical perspective, HWAY soared higher here right off some near-term support at $14 with heavy upside volume. This move briefly pushed shares of HWAY into breakout territory, since the stock flirted with its previous 52-week high at $15.24 with high volume. At last check, HWAY hit an intraday high of $15.49 and volume was well above its three-month average action of 175,280 shares.

Traders should now look for long-biased trades in HWAY as long as it's trending above Wednesday's low of $14.05 and then once it sustains a move or close above its new 52-week high at $15.49 with volume that hits near or above 175,280 shares. If we get that move soon, then HWAY will set up to enter new 52-week-high territory, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that move are $17 to $20.

To see more stocks rising on unusual volume, check out the Stocks Rising on Unusual Volume portfolio on Stockpickr.

-- Written by Roberto Pedone in Madison, Wis.

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At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.

Roberto Pedone, based out of Madison, Wis., is an independent trader who focuses on technical analysis for small- and large-cap stocks, options, futures, commodities and currencies. Roberto studied international business at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and he spent a year overseas studying business in Lubeck, Germany. His work has appeared on financial outlets including CNBC.com and Forbes.com. You can follow Pedone on Twitter at www.twitter.com/zerosum24 or @zerosum24.