Does the Record-Setting Stock Rally Have Legs?
The financial media debate whether the 89-month-long bull market has staying power.
By John Kimelman
The weather in New York is unusually hot for the middle of August. So is the stock market.
On Monday, the three major U.S. stock indexes – the Dow Industrials, the Standard & Poor’s 500 and the Nasdaq – have reached another set of all-time highs.
And the financial media is buzzing with stories about whether this somewhat surprising rally in the face of slow economic growth still has legs.
Writing in USA Today, investment columnist Adam Shell argues that market fear, as measured by the Chicago Board Options Exchange’s Volality Index (ticker: VIX ), is “nowhere in sight,” despite bearish comments about the stock market made by the likes of Carl Icahn, Jeff Gundlach, and Bill Gross. The VIX closed today at 11.8, its 52-week low.
“Low fear levels most often occur at times of rising stock prices and tranquil markets,” writes Shell. “But low VIX readings are often viewed as a sign of investor complacency as risks build.”
While FDR once famously told Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Shell quotes Greg Rutherford, the CEO of Cavalier Investments, who altered the famous quote to make it applicable to the dangers of a complacent stock market: “The only thing we have to fear is the lack of fear.”
In the USA Today column, Rutherford ticks off a list of worries that could challenge the market’s current calm. “(Price-to-earnings ratios) are extremely high,” he tells USA Today. “GDP is weak.
Corporate earnings have contracted four straight quarters. The world economy isn’t great. There’s downward pressure on oil prices again. And central banks continue to drop interest rates (due to weak growth).”
But as an article in Bloomberg points out, there’s a case to be made for this rally to continue, despite the fact that the bull market has lasted for almost seven and a half years, making it the second longest bull market in market history.
“There is a lot to like in a market as hated as this one,” writes Oliver Renick, a Bloomberg writer.
Renick argues that it’s a good sign that a rotation has taken place in which growth stocks are now pushing the broader indexes higher instead of the dividend-rich defense stocks that powered the rally last year.
“Nary a defensive share is rallying as leadership in the S&P 500 Index switches from the dividend-paying bond surrogates that ruled 2015 to technology, banks and commodity firms that benefit from an expanding economy,” writes Renick.
Renick adds that computer and software makers, financial firms and industrial companies have all climbed at least 9.7 percent since the two-day rout that followed the surprise Brexit vote on June 23.
“The rally is straining the main case of the bears, which boils down to an observation that the bull market that began in March 2009 has gone on for too long,” he adds.
The stock rally in recent weeks may have something to do with Hillary Clinton’s surge in the polls against Republican challenger Donald Trump.
As Barron’s pointed out in its cover story over the weekend, Hillary’s victory would be more easily digested by the market than Trump’s because of the Democrat’s “mostly moderate instincts” and “predictable policy prescriptions.”
Paul La Monica, a veteran columnist with CNN Money, agrees with this thinking.
In a piece posted on the CNN Money Website Monday, La Monica argues that Clinton is the known quantity and Trump is the wild card in the race.
“Even though it seems unlikely that he would remain so bombastic and unpredictable if elected, the truth is that nobody really knows,” La Monica concludes.