Is the market's strong start bound to fizzle?

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 10, 2013 at 12:09 pm •  Published: February 10, 2013
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Jeffrey Kleintop, the chief market strategist at LPL Financial, says the ECB's pledge largely removed the prospect of a financial crisis spreading from Europe to the rest of the world.

But even though the scariest threat is gone, Europe's economic troubles still pose a risk.

If Germany, for instance, gets pulled into a recession with the rest of the region, the pain is bound to spread, Kleintop says. Added together, the 17 countries that use the euro rank as the world's second-largest economy. Europe is also China's top customer for exports.

The other major concern for investors stems from Washington, where drawn-out budget battles have turned into an annual event. Steep spending cuts are scheduled to kick in March 1, unless Congress and the White House find a way to avoid them. Previous high-stakes talks have rattled financial markets. In August 2011, a fight over raising the government's borrowing limit ended with the country losing its top credit rating and panicked investors fleeing for safety. Worries that lawmakers would fail to avoid budget cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" were blamed for the stock market's swoon last fall.

There's little agreement about what will happen this time, except that it won't be nearly as bad. Some think that investors have seen enough budget brawls that they won't be fazed by another one.

"People are pretty much sick of hearing about this," says Joseph Tanious, the global market strategist at JPMorgan Funds.

The S&P 500 is already off to its best start in decades, climbing 6 percent so far this year. Kleintop, however, says the buoyant mood is unlikely to last. If more companies keep warning of slower earnings in the coming weeks, the pile-up of worries could unnerve investors. Without another last-minute deal between Congress and the White House to avoid the budget cuts, the stock market's gains could be erased as early as March, Kleintop says.

The good news is that even those who believe the ride is about to get bumpy expect it to end well. Unlike previous years, it's hard to find anyone predicting a crash or a replay of 2008. They mainly believe the stock market can't keep up its blistering start. Repeat the S&P 500's surge in January over the rest of 2013 and it works out to an annual gain of 79 percent -- roughly nine times better than the historical average.

For all his skepticism, Kleintop expects the S&P 500 to end the year trading around where it is now. He's drawn up a list of companies he plans to scoop up after the next big drop.

"It will be a buying opportunity," he says. "We'll be ready to step in, because this bull market isn't over."