Why did the stock market do that?
The great mystery of stock markets reared its head last week. With no clear driver, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 3 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index moved higher by about 2.5 percent. It was a puzzler. Ben Levisohn of Barron’s explained:
“Given those gains, we’d expect a heaping helping of good news, but not much was forthcoming. Earnings reports from [two large multinational companies] left investors wanting. And economic data were either bad or terrible in the United States – industrial production declined in January, the first drop in eight months, while December’s retail sales fell the most for any month since 2009. But who needs good news when the United States and China are reportedly making progress on trade talks? Yes, the details remain a little fuzzy, but at least the tone is more constructive.”
It probably wasn’t just optimism about China that pushed markets higher.
Consumer Sentiment, which gauges Americans expectations for the economy, was up more than 4 percent month-to-month. One driver of consumer optimism was relief the government shutdown had ended. Another driver is a change in inflation expectations, which are at the lowest level seen in half a century. Americans think inflation will remain low and they anticipate wages will rise. The Federal Reserve’s newly accommodative attitude hasn’t hurt, either.
Investor sentiment was leaning bullish last week, too. Willie Delwiche of See It Market reported the Investor Intelligence survey of financial advisors showed 49 percent bullish and 21 percent bearish. The AAII Investor Sentiment Survey reported bulls (40 percent) edged bears (37 percent) by a neck. Those indicators were balanced by the Daily Trading Sentiment Composite from Ned Davis Research which suggested optimism was too high
When markets rise, as they have during the past few weeks, it may be tempting to take a more aggressive stance and tilt your portfolio toward U.S. stocks. This may not be a good idea.
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