Stock market commentators who got their bearings straight and were on the money early on in 2010, when most prognosticators were proclaiming the death of equities, have every right to crow about their conviction in staying bullish against seemingly insurmountable odds. Not many called it correctly, sad to say. The bearish herd almost convinced everyone that the market was headed for the dumps.
This column got a lot of flak from bearish readers when I declared on May 17, 2010, in a bold headline: "Don't Be Too Hasty to Declare the Bull Dead." The Dow Jones industrial average at the time had tumbled to 10,620.16, and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index had plunged to 1,135.68. The world was coming to an end, proclaimed the naysayers. They were wrong, totally.
I warned at the time that "if you believe the bears' forecast, be very careful. That's because the bulls [whose numbers were dwindling fast then], who analyze the technical [and fundamental] behavior of the markets, have some solid counterarguments on their side."
The Bears Growled Even Louder
A couple of months later, on Aug. 9, 2010, I wrote another column that advised: "Investors Need to Look Beyond the Daily Headlines," which were fomenting intensified volatility that continued to harass even some of the more astute market players. I pushed my bullish sentiment some more, and on Sept. 7, 2010, as the bulls got their hands on the ball, I wrote yet another column that said: "Yes, This Bull Move Could Have Legs." The bears even growled louder at that.
By now we all know what the market has achieved since. The Dow closed at 11,577.51 on Dec. 31, 2010, up 11% for the year, and on Jan. 3, 2011, the first trading day of the new year, the Dow leaped further, to 11,670.75, up 93.24 points, or 0.81% -- the biggest point and percentage gain since Dec. 2, 2010.
The S&P 500 also excelled: The index jumped a solid 12.8%, to 1,257 in 2010. On Jan. 3, the S&P rose some more, to 1,271.89. The market then had a mixed day on Jan. 4, when the Dow closed at 11,691.18, up 0.18%, and the S&P closed at 1,270.20, down 0.13%.
Thank the Economy's Rebound
I have this short answer for those who wonder what could transport the market still higher: the economy. The unexpected and sudden advance that started with September's first day was in anticipation of favorable news about the progress the economic recovery was making. The continuing rebound will now propel the market to even headier levels.
What had pulled down the market in the past couple of years should for now lift it further -- specifically, a steady gain in manufacturing, productivity, housing and, yes, even in unemployment. Already, some of the economic indicators that had looked murky are starting to show some luster, including gains in manufacturing (in the U.S., Europe and China), inventory rebuilding, industrial production and housing and construction spending. Even the employment bogey is starting to show some upbeat numbers. Joblessness is starting to recede, although far too slowly.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that when positive news on jobs and hiring start to pile in, the market will rev up even more.
Another Good Year for Stocks
Ed Yardeni, president and investment strategist at Yardeni Research, who was among the few economists and investment gurus who stayed bullish throughout 2010, remains upbeat about the market and the economy. He says 2011 will be another good one for stocks. Yardeni sees the S&P 500 going to a near-record high of 1,500, up some 19% for the year, slightly exceeding the 18.4% average gain for the third year of the presidential cycle since 1955.
Part of his bullish stance is the shape of the economic recovery he expects (like a V) and the continued rebound in corporate earnings. Overall profits in 2010 jumped 34.8%, notes Yardeni, and the profit recovery of domestic nonfinancial industries and profits from abroad "should remain robust."
In the complex housing problem, a bottom in new-home sales may have already started, given November's 5.5% increase, notes Yardeni. And existing-home sales may also have hit a floor, although he senses that the recovery will likely be sluggish.
As to his bullish market outlook, Yardeni cautions that there is a "too-much-of-a-good-thing" scenario that could be led by a jump in commodity prices. "My biggest concern for the new year is that my bullish year-end targets for stocks and commodities will occur by the middle of the year." That, indeed, could be a quick "positive" problem because he worries that such a "melt-up" might result in a significant meltdown in the second half.
Bears Haven't Thrown in the Towel Yet
My attitude about the market is to watch the bears, who look very closely for what could go wrong with the economy and the market. When they turn positive and start joining the bullish crowd, that's the time to get concerned. Although there are signs that the bull/bear ratio is showing that the bull side has jumped to its highest level since April -- a negative indicator to the contrarians -- the bears are still far from throwing in the towel. So it's not yet time to worry.
And while some bears are already forecasting a pullback in the Dow to 11,000 by February, the savvy bulls see more positive factors that should continue to push up the market.
Surely, the market will rise and fall as it heads toward that historic all-time record, and it would be a very healthy sign if stocks were to correct, or pull back, as the market moves further ahead. The worst thing would be for stocks to go straight up without allowing for some correction along the way. In fact, investors should welcome these pullbacks so they can get in or catch up with the ascending market indexes.
Thus far, equities are performing superbly. The Dow is up 78% from its 12-year closing low of 6,547.054 on Mar. 9, 2009. However impressive that may be, the smart money is betting that market has a lot more upside spirit and that it isn't done climbing.