The current bull market was born three years ago -- on March 9, 2009 -- when the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, a broad gauge of the market's health, sank to a closing low of 676.53 after the financial crisis tipped stocks into a gut-wrenching, 10-month-long free-fall.
Over the past three years the S&P 500 has more than doubled, gaining 689 points as of Thursday’s market close. That bull run ranks as the seventh-best ever in percentage terms and has happened despite a shaky economy, persistently high unemployment and the threat of disintegration in the Eurozone. The rally recently pushed the Dow Jones industrial average to close above 13,000 for the first time since May 2008, before the onset of the financial crisis.Mark Lamkin, who runs Lamkin Wealth Management in Louisville, Ky., managing $250 million in retail investments, is optimistic that it can, but he thinks uncertainty about the outcome of the election this fall and the outcome of the European debt crisis will keep a lid on gains.
“But as the uncertainty about those things goes away, we’ll move higher, and I think we will end the year up 10 to 20 percent,” he added. As of Thursday’s close, the S&P was up 8.6 percent so far this year.
Lamkin reckons we might see a market pattern similar to last year, when stocks started the year moving higher, pulled back midyear in the face of the Arab Spring and turmoil in Europe, only to rally into the fall and close the year flat.
“I don’t think we’ll see a 20 percent sell-off midyear like last year, but I think we’ll see some healthy profit-taking,” he said.
Castleark Management President Jerry Castellini is also sanguine about the outlook for stocks. Events that could derail the rally, such as the debt crisis in Europe, are in the rear-view mirror, he said, and by historical standards stock valuations are cheap, he told CNBC.
All this is going to put all markets “in a more positive framework,” he said. “This could last for two or three years.”
Others believe that the recent increase in oil prices and the potential for more European uncertainty are a threat to the market’s run, which has seen a gain of 28 percent from October lows. Those factors, combined with the strength of the market’s latest run-up, make market analysts such as Bill Strazzullo, Bell Curve Trading’s chief market strategist, more cautious.
Strazzullo reckons the optimism about Europe and the U.S. economy are already priced in.
“The bottom line is 2012 is going to be a range year,” he told CNBC. And stocks are closer to the upper end of that range, so it makes sense to reduce exposure to equities, he said.
“Remember, the market ended last year flat, but from May to October it had a 20 percent sell-off, so that’s the pitfall you want to avoid,” he said. “We think you are vulnerable to a decent-sized down move. So take some profit and play a little defense now.”