Four charts that matter most for the market in 2018

Nearly every equity market in the world saw solid returns this year, and the U.S. is no exception. The S&P 500 is on pace for its best year since 2013, with a nearly 20 percent gain, year to date; the Dow Jones industrial average achieved a record number of all-time highs.

The upside is likely continue across international markets next year by several technical measures, according to a new analysis from Katie Stockton, chief technical strategist at BTIG.

Long-term momentum in the S&P 500 and across "most world equity indices" is strong, Stockton wrote, though on a relative basis the U.S. has given up its leadership to emerging markets and Europe, Australasia and Far East benchmarks after several years of outperformance.

"We expect this trend to become more obvious in 2018, with many international markets poised to exhibit upside leadership," she wrote.

Here are four charts from Stockton's year-end report, which she examined Tuesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation," that show the strength could continue in the U.S. and around the world in 2018.

S&P 500

The S&P 500 benchmark large-cap index gains this year have been "all about momentum," Stockton said, and the market at current levels is just below all-time highs, digesting recent gains in a near-term consolidation phase she pointed out, but momentum is still solidly in place.

"I've been likening this market to 2013, in that it had this almost uninterrupted uptrend, barely ever a pullback, and yet still maintained that strength. I attribute that to the breadth behind the market, or the market participation," she said Tuesday.

NYSE stocks making new highs

The cumulative advance-decline line, a gauge of market breadth, measures the number of stocks advancing against the number of stocks declining. Traditionally, in a market rally, this represents how broad-based the participation is, or whether a rally is a so-called narrow upward march.

"This market has been highly criticized for having narrow leadership. But in actuality, while leadership has indeed been narrow, in fact when you look at the breadth behind the market, it's been quite strong and expanding most of the year," Stockton said on "Trading Nation."

Indeed, the market has been "criticized" for top-heavy leadership. But Stockton said the breadth has shown "no signs of exhaustion, no negative divergences. That would be an issue heading into the new year, but because we've had that broad participation, it is something that can persist, and suggests that the uptrend still has legs to it."

Nikkei 225: "One of the most exciting charts … going into the new year"

The benchmark Japanese index earlier this year posted its longest-ever winning streak, and Stockton sees more upside ahead.

"I think it already has broken out, and this is probably one of the most exciting charts in my opinion going into the new year, in that we've seen the Nikkei 225 clear resistance from the year 2000," she said, pointing to a chart of the index.

"This breakout that we've seen does bode well for not only intermediate-term upside follow-through, but long-term upside follow-through in the same way that we saw in the U.S. The S&P 500 of course broke out in 2013, and the Nasdaq composite had broken out as well, and saw instant follow-through on the back of those breakouts. So I think this is very exciting," she said, and said this bodes well not only for Japanese stocks on an absolute basis but relative to the U.S., too.

MSCI EAFE EFA ETF relative to the S&P 500

Though the long-term relative downtrend between the ETF — which tracks large- and midcap developed markets outside of the U.S. and Canada — and the S&P 500 is still in place, this year has seen what Stockton calls a "loss of downside momentum," as some international markets have strengthened relative to the U.S.

"It's somewhat subtle, you can see it a bit more obviously in emerging markets on a relative basis, but I do think with the breakout that we saw in the Japanese stocks, combined with this loss of downside momentum in relative terms for global markets, I think it bodes well for a lasting turnaround, where we actually see the U.S. relinquish its leadership stronghold that it's had for several years," she said.

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Trading Nation is a multimedia financial news program that shows investors and traders how to use the news of the day to their advantage. This is where experts from across the financial world – including macro strategists, technical analysts, stock-pickers, and traders who specialize in options, currencies, and fixed income – come together to find the best ways to capitalize on recent developments in the market. Trading Nation: Where headlines become opportunities.

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Brian Sullivan is co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" (M-F,1PM-3PM ET), one of the network's longest running programs, as well as the host of the daily investing program "Trading Nation." He is also a frequent guest on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and other NBC properties.

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