Stocks finished higher again, with the Dow up 67 points, to 13,779 - inching ever closer to the all-time high of 14,164 that was reached in October 2007. Of course two months later the nation entered a recession, and you know the rest of that tune. The painfully sluggish recovery, along with gruesome standoffs in Washington, have kept investors in a cautious mood - despite growing signs that the economy has finally gained traction. So is the market about to peak or could this be the start of an extended bull market? You'll find reasonable arguments on both sides. From Barron's:
"We are pretty optimistic that the next three to five years are going to be fine," providing investors with returns in the high single digits to 10%, says Sarat Sethi, a partner at Douglas C. Lane & Associates, a money manager in New York. The economies in China and the U.S. have stabilized, and corporations, which pulled back on capital expenditures in the fourth quarter, could soon start spending again. The market does seem to be anticipating a pickup in capital spending that benefits technology companies, as most of the shares in that sector--except, of course, Apple (ticker: AAPL) -- have started to trade higher. In the past three months, 65% of all techs have outpaced the S&P 500. Semiconductor stocks are at an eight-month high, relative to that benchmark, notes Chris Verrone, head of technical analysis at Strategas Research Partners.
Don't expect much clarity from today's big earnings news. Netflix smashed expectations, but the Apple numbers were lukewarm at best, with revenue that was slightly below expectations and earnings per share slightly higher than expected. Both iPhone and iPad sales were under estimates - more worrisome news because of what it might signal about consumer behavior.