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A Crucial Stock Market Signal Just Got Its Most Bullish Reading of the Year

posted onJune 11, 2017
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US stocks may be hovering near record levels, but investors don't seem to be particularly worried about protecting the plentiful gains they've enjoyed.

At least that's the signal being sent by the options market, which is more unhedged on the S&P 500 than at any point this year.

The CBOE Equity Put/Call Ratio fell to 0.51 on Monday, the lowest since December 8, and 20% below the measure's current bull market average. A low reading implies that traders are making a small number of bearish bets, relative to wagers on an increase.

But while this gauge of investor worry is at a six-month low, it wasn't always so subdued. The ratio sat close to 1.0 at a five-month high as recently as mid-April.

Business Insider / Andy Kiersz, data from Bloomberg

So what conditions have recently shaped up to support the bullishness — or perhaps more accurately, lack of bearishness — being seen in the stock market right now?

Here's a breakdown of five themes supporting investor positivity, and suggesting that US stocks have further to run:

 

The breadth of stock market gains has been wide enough to allay concerns that indexes are being pushed higher by just a smaller number of companies.

Morgan Stanley

While technology stocks — most notably the FANG group of Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google — have gotten a great deal of attention for pushing stocks higher, the wider market has also been pulling its weight.

In fact, participation in the ongoing equity rally is broadening, as shown by the equal-weight S&P 500 index recently breaking out of a narrow three-month range, says Morgan Stanley, which thinks tech is getting too much credit.

"While performance from this group of stocks has been exceptional, they are not the only outperformers," equity strategists led by Michael J. Wilson wrote in a client note. "Outside this group, there has been ample opportunity for positive returns both across US sectors and globally."

Even the FANG-dominated tech sector itself is seeing more widespread strength. Roughly 45 stocks in the S&P 500 Information Technology index are sitting at 52-week highs, the most since at least 2012, according to data compiled by Strategas Research Partners.

Markets worldwide are being propped up by robust cash holdings that are at their highest in almost three decades.

JPMorgan

Underpinning gains in both stocks and bonds is $5 trillion of capital that is sitting on the sidelines and serving as a reservoir for buying on weakness.

"This excess cash acts as a backstop for financial assets, both bonds and equities, because any correction is quickly reversed by investors deploying their excess cash to buy the dip," Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, the managing director of global market strategy at JPMorgan, wrote in a client note.

While the $5 trillion is roughly half of what it was before the US presidential election — a period that has seen the S&P 500 surge by 14% — the outstanding cash is still close to a record and well above the average level seen since 1990, according to JPMorgan data.

Consumer sentiment has been elevated for a prolonged period, something that's historically unlocked massive gains for stocks.

Morgan Stanley

We're about halfway into such a high-confidence period, following recent University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index data that kept the trend intact.

Sentiment has been this high for this long on just five other occasions since 1978, according to data compiled by Morgan Stanley. The S&P 500 saw a median return of 21% in the one year following each positive reading and a 42% gain over a two-year period, according to the firm's data.

The S&P 500's 17% rally since June 2016 is roughly in line with that history. And perhaps more important for market speculators, it signals that the index could have 21% to 25% left to climb over the next year.

"This suggests that an environment of elevated and stable consumer sentiment is conducive to a building of animal spirits," a group of Morgan Stanley equity strategists wrote in a client note on Tuesday. "This trend started last year, but still has momentum."

The number of companies revising future profits higher is outpacing those making downward adjustments by the most since 2012.

Morgan Stanley

The measure in question, known as earnings revision breadth, goes one step further than showing increased overall profit optimism by also quantifying how widespread it is throughout the S&P 500.

The last 10 times S&P 500 earnings revision breadth has climbed 15% over a three-month period, the benchmark returned a median of 15% over the following year, Morgan Stanley data show.

"The recent surge confirms the sustainability of the earnings recovery that started in early 2016," a group of Morgan Stanley equity strategists led by Michael J. Wilson wrote in a client note. "The momentum of earnings revisions breadth like that seen recently is often synonymous with higher equity prices over a 12-month horizon."

And last but not least, the granddaddy of them all: corporate earnings are growing at the fastest pace in 6 years.

After a five-quarter contraction, S&P 500 profit expansion has improved over each of the past three periods.

Business Insider / Andy Kiersz, data from Bloomberg

Profit expansion has historically been the biggest contributor to share-price appreciation, and it has returned to the S&P 500 with a fury not seen in almost six years.

Companies in the benchmark are on pace to see 14% earnings growth for the first quarter of 2017, the most since the third quarter of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It marks the third straight quarter of earnings growth for the S&P 500.

"It's all about earnings," Citigroup chief US equity strategist Tobias Levkovich worte in a June 2 client note. "The combination of planned tax cuts, light-handed regulation, a repatriation tax holiday on overseas cash and possible infrastructure spending has buoyed hopes for faster economic activity in 2H17 into 2018. However, earnings have been more crucial for stock prices."

Via [Business Insider]