Animal Spirits Lift S&P 500 to a New Record High

Hakyung Kim and Lisa Kali Han of CNBC report the S&P 500 rallies 1% to all-time high, surpassing previous record set in 2022:

The S&P 500closed at an all-time high on Friday as investors returned to buying equities in force in recent days following a short-lived market stumble to start the new year.

The broad market index rose 1.23% to settle at 4,839.81, surpassing both the prior record intraday and closing highs from January 2022. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which set its own record at the end of last year, added 395.19 points, or 1.05%, to end at 37,863.80. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 1.70% to 15,310.97. The smaller, more tech-focused Nasdaq-100gained 1.95% to also hit a record high.

All three major averages are now in positive territory for 2024, with the 30-stock Dow going green during Friday’s rally.

Following a 19% loss in 2022, the S&P 500 roared back in 2023, posting a 24% gain as the economy skirted a recession that many had expected and inflation came down to levels that allowed the Federal Reserve to pause its interest rate hikes. The benchmark came close to reaching a record following a forceful fourth-quarter rally, but ultimately fell short. The market rally paused a bit to start 2024 as investors took some profits in the Big Tech leaders like Apple.

But they returned to buying those tech leaders in recent days. Friday’s milestone confirms that the stock market is officially in a bull market that began in October 2022, and not just a bounce within a bear market. The S&P 500 is up more than 35% since that low.

“In the mind of the investor, [companies] leading in AI or having a product set that’s differentiated in the tech space are very, very strongly leading the market. That’s been a wave that’s persisted throughout the remainder of last year and into 2024,” said Matt Stucky, chief portfolio manager at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management.

The tech sector gained 2.35% on Friday and more than 4% during the trading week, making it the S&P 500′s best-performing sector week to date.

Whether the broader market index can maintain its growth momentum in 2024 “is going to be a question of whether the Fed is able to stick a soft landing or not,” said Stucky. He noted that the driver of the S&P 500′s growth in 2023 was tied to multiples, rather than earnings.

“Multiples rise coming out of economic slowdowns, because investors are pricing in a recovery. If that recovery doesn’t materialize, then you do have to question the sustainability of not only holding on to new highs, but making new highs beyond that,” Stucky added.

Fresh consumer data on Friday indicated that consumers are becoming more confident on the economy and inflation. The University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers showed a 21.4% year-over-year jump to reach its highest level since July 2021.

Insurance company Travelers rose 6.7% after posting an earnings beat. Schlumberger gained 2.2% after beating on top and bottom lines, and Ally Financial surged over 10% after reporting strong quarterly results and a sale of a business unit to Synchrony Financial.

Jeff Cox of CNBC also reports this record-breaking market just keeps going higher and higher. Here’s why:

The stock market keeps scaling new heights as investors focus on the good and ignore the bad, no matter how bad the bad parts might look sometimes.

Prospects for a slowing economy, geopolitical unrest and turmoil in Washington aren’t scaring market participants largely because none of those threats have turned into much in reality.

What instead has taken center stage is an economy performing remarkably well, inflation pulling back and a run of positive developments in Big Tech that has outweighed any what-ifs that the market has had to endure.

“If investors are looking for a reason to be negative, it’s hard to find,” said Mitchell Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy, a financial advisory firm. “The 24-hour news cycle is so intense. But the fact is, a lot of it is noise and a lot of it has nothing to do with economics and personal finance. There’s so much information overload now. But to break it down and put perspective on things, what’s not to like about the stats that are coming up?”

As it has digested the various headwinds and tail winds, the market is pushing toward a record closing high. In fact, the S&P 500 breached its intraday peak Friday, continuing the momentum built through the end of 2023.

Large technology players have led the charge. Juniper Networks, Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices are the three biggest sector gainers this year on the S&P 500, buoyed in part by enthusiasm over generative artificial intelligence technology.

Solid economy provides a boost

At the same time, economic data outside of manufacturing and housing has been mostly solid, particularly where it concerns the seemingly unbreakable labor market. With expectations running high that elevated interest rates pose a threat to continued hiring growth, initial jobless claims last week hit their lowest level since September 2022.

Along with commentary from multiple Fed officials, the tight labor market has taken some of the steam of out the market’s anticipation for rate cuts this year.

Where the market a week ago was nearly certain the Fed would start cutting in March and keep going with six more quarter percentage point moves this year, pricing shifted Friday. Traders in the fed funds futures market now think there’s less than a 50% chance of a March cut and now see a greater likelihood of five reductions this year, according to CME Group data.

But markets stayed positive even with the dimmed outlook for policy easing.

“As far as the Fed raising rates, this has been borne out that as long as the rate hikes don’t cause something to break” the market is fine, Goldberg said. “I don’t really see anything breaking. There’s no subprime debt crisis, I don’t see a mortgage crisis. ... There have been a lot of big, bold predictions, and one by one they don’t happen, or they just push them out to the next year.”

Withstanding rate hikes

Indeed, the market has behaved well since the Fed started hiking rates — 11 times worth 5.25 percentage points in the most aggressive cycle going back to the early 1980s. Since the first increase on March 17, 2022, the S&P 500 has gained more than 8%. Since the last hike on July 27, 2023, the large-cap index has risen more than 5.5%.

Now the market is anticipating, with perhaps a little less fervor, that the Fed is going to start cutting.

Investors are “bullishly skating to where the puck is going,” meaning a lower fed funds rate, Bank of America investment strategist Michael Hartnett said in a client note Thursday.

Combining a tough economy with a more accommodating Fed and an outperforming tech sector is adding up to a winning formula.

“The big seven names [in tech] have become like a chimera. They appeal to two very different economic backdrops,” said Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist at LPL Financial. “One is we’re out of fear that the economy is slowing dramatically. The other is they’re specific catalysts for AI because the market has been focused on the business development with mega-tech and business innovation for generative AI. And now what you’re seeing and what companies are reporting is the monetization of that.”

Krosby specifically cited standout earnings from Taiwan Semiconductor as a bellwether for the sector and the promise that disruptive technology holds. “That is something that the market has been waiting for,” she said.

Then there’s the economy.

With the labor market withstanding inflationary pressures and higher rates, that opens the door for more consumer strength this year. Consumer sentiment hit its most optimistic level since July 2021, according to a University of Michigan survey released Friday.

“You’re always looking for your first signals towards for a recession. They come right out of the labor market. What you see is that the underpinnings of the economy helps maintain consumer spending, which is 70% of the economy,” Krosby said. “That’s a backdrop that the market appreciates.”

It's Friday, and everyone is supper happy the S&P 500 made an all-time record high.

AI bulls are particular happy as Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices are leading the charge higher making all-time highs:

And there is no shortage of exuberance out there on these and other Mag 7 stocks:

Meanwhile the rest of the market isn't doing much and remains weak:

So, how long can this AI nonsense last? 

Well, to answer this question, I looked at the 5-year weekly charts of Nvidia and AMD:

Now, please repeat after me: "I will never short a stock making an all-time high when price action is rising above 20-week moving average and the weekly MACD is still rising and well above zero."

Why? Because 9 times out of 10 you'll get your head handed to you as you short these AI bubble stocks.

That's exactly what happened to short sellers last year when they collectively lost $195 billion despite wins on regional banks:

So, good luck shorting Nvidia, AMD and other Mag 7 stocks, if you don't have a strategy in place, you will get your face ripped off and other body parts too.

I saw all this nonsense continuing when I wrote my Outlook 2024 at the start of the year. 

Remember what I wrote back then on an old adage I subscribe to, one that I invented in my head while trading: "The market exists to frustrate the maximum amount of investors all the time. Full stop."

As we speak, there are CTAs collectively managing trillions trying to squeeze shorts on Mag 7 stocks and force traditional portfolio managers into chasing these stocks higher and higher.

Will they succeed? For a while yes but eventually the economy catches up to them and then global macro funds with trillions start shorting CTAs like there's no tomorrow and the AI party will be over faster than you can imagine and an ugly reality will set in.

But for now, I agree with Blacktone's co-founder and CEO Stephen Schwartzman, animal spirits have taken over the market:

I see it everywhere, not just in the Mag 7 mega cap tech stocks.

For example, the absolutely insane volume and speculation going on this week in shares of Spirit Airlines after a judge ruled against the merger between it and JetBlue is incredible:

I've seen this movie many times before and typically never ends well for retail investors looking to make a killing.

Large hedge funds are pumping and dumping this stock, manipulating share price in pre-market and after the bell to keep the excitement going and then BAM, they're gone before you know it and retail bagholders are left holding their you-know-what.

But if you want to speculate on Spirit Airlines, be my guest, just don't say I never warned you if nobody comes to save this company (no pun intended).

What else? The AI craze has seeped in all sectors of the market including small-cap stocks like Bullfrog AI Holdings, up over 80% this week and flying high after the bell Friday:

With a name like Bullfrog AI Holdings, no wonder speculators are leaping into this crap!!

There is a bunch more nonsense, just have a look here to see stocks ripping higher today and all week (play with periods to see weekly, monthly, etc advancers and decliners).

In the larger cap names, there are 10 stocks in the Russell 1,000 that are up 100%+ since the S&P's last all-time intraday high on 1/4/22:

The point of my comment however is that animal spirits reign when markets are approaching or reach a climax.

Now more than ever, you need to be very cognizant of all the risks out there because they can bite you when you least expect it:

On that cheery note, I wish you all a great weekend and those of you you have access to Trahan Macro Research, make sure you read his latest on S&P 500 leadership, it's excellent.

Below, Adam Parker, Trivariate Research CEO, joins 'Closing Bell' to discuss his market and economic outlook and the state of the consumer.

Next, Richard Bernstein Advisors Deputy CIO Dan Suzuki says we will see a bear market ahead for tech stocks. He's on "Bloomberg the Open" warning of a tech stock bubble.

Interestingly, he notes Mag 7 reminds him of the Nifty Fifty and one of the stocks that has impresses me over the past year is old tech IBM.

Third, Brian Jacobsen, Annex Wealth Management chief economist, and Ron Insana, chief market strategist at Dynasty Financial Partners, join 'Power Lunch' to discuss where investors cash should go if the Fed cuts rates.

I personally take this money on the sideline argument with a shaker, not a pinch of salt.

Fourth, Blackstone Group chairman, CEO and co-founder Steve Schwarzman joins 'Squawk Box' to discuss the real estate market, doing business in China, 2024 election, and more.

Interestingly, on Friday Blackstone announced it was buying Tricon Residential, a Toronto-based landlord that owns 38,000 homes across the US for $3.5 billion, sending Tricon shares up 28%. I guess Blackstone wants back in on being a major residential real estate landlord as US recession takes hold (there are serious concerns in Washintong over this see this clip).

Fifth, Carlyle Group Co-Founder David Rubenstein discusses interest rates with Francine Lacqua. He speaks on Bloomberg Television at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Sixth, Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio joins 'Squawk Box' to discuss today's geopolitical landscape, impact on the global economy, market global risks, 2024 election, U.S.-China relations, and more. 

Lastly, watch This Week on Wall Street going over this week's events. The interview with Larry Summers going over US fiscal sustainability and Chinese debt deflation dynamics is priceless.