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On March 9, the U.S bull market in stocks will celebrate its second birthday.
So far, 2011 is delivering on that bull market promise. The just-finished month of February represents the third straight month of U.S. stock-market gains.
All three major indices are up more than 5% so far this year. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 3.02% in February and 2.26% in January. In fact, even with the damage that the Middle East crisis inflicted on stock prices at the end of last month, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average each enjoyed their strongest February showing since 1998.
This early year performance is a good market signal, technically speaking. The S&P 500 has finished higher in January and February 30 times since 1928, according to a recent Bespoke Investment Group report. The average gain for the rest of the year in those 30 years has been 7.4%, with the median change of 10.97%. The index has traded higher for the rest of the year in 26 of those 30 years, or 87% of the time.
Although U.S. stocks have zoomed by nearly 100% from the bear-market lows of March 2009, there's enough fuel to push the bull higher, according to research from Bank of America – Merrill Lynch (NYSE: BAC). The current stock surge right now ranks No. 10 on the list of the Top 10 U.S. bull markets of all time.
And these gains have occurred in the face of continued economic and political uncertainty – meaning U.S. stocks notched these gains while climbing the proverbial "wall of worry." Commodities continue to soar, Middle East unrest is driving up oil prices, unemployment remains high, the U.S. housing market is at bottom and mounting U.S. deficits have analysts worried that the federal government is maxing out the national credit card.
So far, stock prices have proven resilient to Middle East turmoil by dipping only slightly – and then rebounding higher.
But stock-market bears continue to argue that U.S. stocks are overdue for a correction, and that the stock market can't shrug off the global uncertainty for much longer. While many investors have enjoyed their two-year ride on the bull, others are worried and just want to avoid being mauled if it does indeed morph into a bear.
Many bears argue that the easy-money policies that aided the U.S. rebound from the global financial crisis have been the key catalyst for the current bull market – meaning stock prices won't be able to continue their advance as stimulative measures wind down.
However, Money Morning Contributing Writer Jon D. Markman says that he just can't agree. Markman says that there are too many market leaders – including Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) and The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) – behind the Dow's surge for this bull run to end.
"There's an argument to be made that it won't last longer than it takes U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to end QE2," Markman said. "But in my view – which is based on historical precedent, intuition and experience – it's hard to bet against this bull run."
This brings us to next week's Money Morning "Question of the Week": Are you betting on the bull market? Do you believe this bull run can continue? If so, for how long? What stocks and sectors do you expect will perform the best? Or are you in the bear camp, and getting away from U.S. stocks – for fear that a correction is overdue, and even imminent?
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News and Related Story Links:
- The Wall Street Journal:
BAML Technicians: Bull Market Tested, But Still on Track.
- Bespoke Investment Group:
- Money Morning:
Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) and Other Large-Cap Leaders Will Continue to Motivate the Market
- Money Morning News Archive:
Question of the Week Feature