Stock Quotes in this Article: CRI, MRK, PNRA, VIA.B

WINDERMERE, Fla. (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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Merck

Merck (MRK) is a global health care company that delivers innovative health solutions through its prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, animal health and consumer care products. This stock is trading up 2.3% at $45.97 in recent trading.

Today’s Volume: 17.19 million

Average Volume: 16.48 million

Volume % Change: 77%

From a technical perspective, MRK is spiking higher here and breaking out above some near-term overhead resistance at $44.99 with above-average volume. This stock has been uptrending strong for the last two months, with shares moving higher from its low of $40.44 to its intraday high of $46.16. During that move, shares of MRK have been mostly making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move is now pushing shares of MRK within range of triggering a major breakout trade. That trade will hit if MRK manages to take out some past resistance levels at $47.09 to $48 with high volume.

Traders should now look for long-biased trades in MRK as long as it’s trending above $44.99 or $44 and then once it sustains a move or close above those breakout levels with volume that hits near or above 16.48 million shares. If that breakout triggers soon, then MRK will set up to enter new 52-week-high territory above $48, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that breakout are $50 to $52.

Carter’s

Carter’s (CRI) is a branded marketer in the U.S. of apparel exclusively for babies and young children. This stock is trading up 1.7% at $58.39 in recent trading.

Today’s Volume: 773,000

Average Volume: 745,007

Volume % Change: 67%

From a technical perspective, CRI is spiking higher here back above its 50-day moving average of $58.31 with above-average volume. This move has also started to push shares of CRI into breakout territory, since the stock has taken out some near-term overhead resistance at $58.48.

Traders should now look for long-biased trades in CRI as long as it’s trending above its 50-day at $58.31 or above today’s low of $57.37, and then once it sustains a move or close above $58.48 with volume that hits near or above 745,007 shares. If CRI can maintain this trend, then this stock will set up to re-test or possibly take out its next major overhead resistance levels at $61 to its 52-week high at $61.22.

Viacom

Viacom (VIA.B) is a biopharmaceutical company developing innovative therapies that target the molecular mechanisms that cause cancer. Its products include Nexavar, Stivarga and Kyprolis. This stock is trading up 1% to $62.15 in recent trading.

Today’s Volume: 2.42 million

Average Volume: 3.07 million

Volume % Change: 50%

Shares of VIAB are trending up modestly here after Susquehanna raised its price target on the stock from $65 to $71 because of a compelling combination of improving operating trends as well as a low P/E.

From a technical perspective, VIAB is trending up slightly here right above its 50-day moving average of $60.01 with decent upside volume. This move is quickly pushing shares of VIAB within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade. That trade will hit if VIAB manages to take out some near-term overhead resistance at $62.80 to $63 with high volume.

Traders should now look for long-biased trades in VIAB as long as it’s trending above today’s low of $61.88 and then once it sustains a move or close above those breakout levels with volume that hits near or above 3.07 million shares. If that breakout hits soon, then VIAB will set up to re-test or possibly take out its 52-week high at $64.71.

Panera Bread

Panera Bread (PNRA) is a national bakery-cafe concept with 1,652 company-owned and franchise-operated bakery-cafe locations in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada. This stock is trading up 2.8% at $169.99 in recent trading.

Today’s Volume: 603,000

Average Volume: 526,911

Volume % Change: 50%

Shares of PNRA are spiking higher here after Raymond James raised its rating to market perform from underperform. Also, Oppenheimer slapped a $200 price target on PNRA by the end of the year, saying the company has the potential to report higher-than-expected first-quarter comps and beat margin expectations.

From a technical perspective, PNRA is trending up here right off $168 and into breakout territory above some near-term overhead resistance at $169.59 with above-average volume. This stock has been uptrending strong for the last month, with shares moving higher from its low of $153.65 to its intraday high of $173.22. During that move, shares of PRNA have been mostly making higher lows and higher highs, which is bullish technical price action. That move is now quickly pushing shares of PRNA within range of triggering a near-term breakout trade. That trade will hit if PNRA manages to take out some overhead resistance levels at $172.51 to $175.26 with high volume.

Traders should now look for long-biased trades in PNRA as long as it’s trending above $169.59, and then once it sustains a move or close above those breakout levels with volume that hits near or above 526,911 shares. If that breakout triggers soon, then PNRA will set up to enter new 52-week-high territory above $175.26, which is bullish technical price action. Some possible upside targets off that breakout are $180 to $185.

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

-- Written by Roberto Pedone in Winderemere, Fla.

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

Roberto Pedone, based out of Windermere, Fla., 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.