The S&P 500 had a bumpy ride in 2016, to say the least, from the lows under 2,000 early in the year to the roaring highs toward the end of the year, and everywhere in between. Now the index is closing in on 2,300, and some analysts are starting to turn into pessimists where U.S. equities are concerned. Just how long can this tear go on before the bubble pops? Or is there any bubble at all?
After reviewing a collection of reports, it’s clear that views are all over the map on this one.
No signs of exhaustion for the S&P 500
JPMorgan strategists Jason Hunter and Alix Tepper said in a research note dated Jan. 4 that the technical bias for the S&P 500 is still positive. In fact, they see no “material signs” on the index’s chart that point to the current rally being exhausted.
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As a result, they remain in “trend following mode until either the index impulsively breaks through key support parameters, or a clear distribution pattern develops.”
The JPMorgan team said it would take weeks for any sort of distribution pattern to appear on the chart and that there’s no sign of it yet. As a result, they remain positive on the S&P 500 in the short-term, as long as it stays above the support of 2,193 to 2,214. They’re also bullish on the index in the medium term if it remains above the breakout pattern that followed the election, which is 2,140 to 2,180.
Hunter and Tepper see the next resistance level within the range of 2,285 to 2,296, but in the long-term for this year, their objective rests between 2,392 and 2,486. Their firm is targeting 2,300 for the S&P 500 this year.
Optimists, meet pessimists: lots or little volatility?
For Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Parker, 2017 looks much more ominous, as he’s forecasting a year of extreme volatility. He notes that investor fears have been driving the recent volatility, and certainly fear is one market driver that’s nearly impossible to predict. The JPMorgan team picked up on a related indicator, as they describe bullish sentiment levels as surprisingly subdued.
They add that the Daily Sentiment Index couldn’t even move into overbought territory even though there was almost a 9% rally following the election.
“The lack of bullish sentiment is more in line with our longstanding view that the index was transitioning to a relatively low-volatility rally phase following the 2015-2016 corrective range,” the JPMorgan team wrote.
A murky picture on earnings growth
Parker expects fundamentals such as earnings growth to have a strong 2017, and if he’s right about that, then investors do indeed have nothing to fear but fear itself.
However, analyst Lindsey Bell of S&P Global Market Intelligence believes estimates for the fourth quarter anyway could be too high. She also believes that guidance from companies is unlikely to move higher. In fact, she thinks that many could cut their guidance for this year, noting, however, that cuts are pretty much “standard practice.”
Needless to say, investors would be spooked in the event of widespread cuts to guidance, and they could cause the market to pull back or at least pause. Despite her difference with Parker in terms of earnings, she agrees that at least the early part of this year could be marked with a great deal of volatility—in spite of the JPMorgan team’s reassurance that the S&P 500’s technicals and chart do not show any indication of exhaustion in the current rally.
The S&P 500 by sector
Hunter and Tepper also provided analysis of the S&P 500’s sectors, noting that Consumer Discretionary has underperformed over the last year. However, they see the potential for the sector to gather bullish momentum and then accelerate if its index is able to hold the breakouts from the post-election pattern.
They see a positive bias for Energy in the medium term if it can hold its “yearlong base pattern highs,” and their outlook for Financials is bullish, although they think the sector could consolidate if interest rates consolidate. After that, they expect a rally in Financials.