The S&P 500 is up 12 per cent so far this year. Through July, it had its best first seven months since 2003 and its second- best seven-month run since 1998. That sounds like a bull market.
But there is clearly a disconnect between the way markets have performed and the high level of caution among many investors. That is mainly due to the perception that things have the potential to go horribly wrong – incredibly fast.
The danger for investors is that they focus too much on the potential risks, such as the break-up of the Eurozone, and end up getting left on the sidelines when markets move higher as they have done since the start of June, said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management, in New York.
“We are in a bull market,” he said. “The mistake investors have made is too much attention on global risk, and not enough attention on fundamentals that are very resilient.”
Cote believes that record high aggregate earnings for S&P 500 companies this year and signs of improvement in the labour market mean investors should be taking on more risk rather than fretting about the dangers stemming from Europe’s debt crisis.
But for the more equivocal souls, the market is presenting a difficult dilemma, and strong convictions either way are elusive.
David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial in Boston, says it’s an uncomfortable time for many investors, who are caught between missing a rally and getting blindsided by some nasty event that sends markets into a tailspin.
Joy says the rally is being driven by the hope of more “easy money” policies from central banks in the United States, Europe and China.
Both the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve are due to meet during the first half of September. Investors are hoping the ECB will buy bonds of troubled European nations in a bid to ease the debt crisis.