NEW YORK -- Wall Street celebrated the first year of its bull market this past week with gains that lifted stocks to 52-week highs. Now investors may have more to cheer about.
While urging caution, analysts say the market should continue its run based on improving corporate profits.
"Investors are enthusiastic about the future. They just don't show any interest in getting rid of stocks at the current price level," said Paul Desmond, president of Lowry's Research Reports. He cited the group's investor selling index, which is at a five-year low.
"As long as that condition exists, we think all the market corrections will tend to be shallow and short-lived," he said. "It's a lot easier when nobody is trying to dump stocks on the buyers."
The sentiment is in contrast to a year ago, when investors were still jittery about the economic outlook and hesitant to make major bets as a war with Iraq loomed. That led to a market slide that pushed the three main gauges to multiyear lows on Oct. 9, 2002.
The date turned out to mark the end of a grueling three-year bear market. Stocks lurched up and down before rallying since mid-March as the war with Iraq winded down.
A bull market is typically defined as a sustained 20 percent move upward, and the Dow Jones industrials is now up 33 percent, the Nasdaq composite is 72 percent higher and the Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 34 percent.
This past week, there were signs of the market's continued strength.
Stocks powered higher Thursday - the one-year anniversary of the Oct. 9, 2002, bottom - following a drop in new jobless claims and upbeat Yahoo! earnings. That lifted the Nasdaq to its best level since March 2002, while the Dow and S&P were at levels not seen since June 2002.
Investors also largely shook off an earnings warning Friday from bellwether General Electric Co. Analysts say that's because more companies overall are expected to meet or beat estimates compared to this time last year.
"What's giving me confidence in the bull market is that it's occurring with a turnaround in the economic situation," said Mitch Zacks, director of research at Zacks Investment Research in Chicago. He believes the market is fairly valued and can move up another 5 percent by year's end.
"We should have very strong earnings, based on the dearth of negative preannouncements," Zacks said.
Historical factors also support a continued bull run, at least for the short term. According to Ned Davis Research in Venice, Fla., Wall Street has seen 33 bull markets since 1900 with the average bull run moving up 66 percent in 573 days.
Out of those 33 bull markets, 17 of them turned out to be shorter-term "cyclical" bull markets which rose on average about 51 percent over 371 days. So even if the current bull run turns out be short-term, stocks still have room to move up based on the average percentage gain.
There still are risks. Analysts caution against over-optimism, which often leads investors to pour most of their available cash into the market in a short time period, leaving little capital to push indexes higher later.
"The time to be optimistic about the market was when investor pessimism was as extreme as it was last October," said Tim Hayes, global stock strategist at Ned Davis Research in Venice, Fla. "This isn't the time to throw caution in the wind and dive in."
But he believes the market could have a decent run until January, since investors between now and then often put their year-end bonuses and dividends to work.
"I don't see a lot of risk between now and the end of year, but once we get beyond the seasonal period of December and January, we'll see how things look at that time," Hayes said.
The Dow ended the week up 102.37, or 1.1 percent, finishing at 9,674.68. For the week, S&P climbed 8.21, or 0.8 percent, to 1,038.06.
The Nasdaq had a weekly gain of 34.74, or 1.9 percent, closing Friday at 1,915.31.
The Russell 2000 index, the barometer of smaller company stocks, ended the week up 6.78, or 1.3 percent, closing at 519.06.
The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index, which tracks more than 5,700 U.S.-based companies, ended the week at 10,085.32, up 95.02 from the previous week. A year ago, the index was at 7,873.03.
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