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The Diverging U.S. Stock Market

This CNN/Money story about how a peak in the number of new highs for individual stocks (as shown below) consistently spells trouble for broad equity market indexes almost a year later is probably of little concern to those who bid share prices higher in recent days as all major U.S. stock indexes turned in big gains this week after last week’s tumble.

Ned Davis Research looked at 15 stock market highs since 1962 and says the peak in new highs for individual stocks precedes the peak in the overall markets by 9 to 11 months.

If that holds true this time around, we’re about done with the bull run.

We’re 11 months past the May 2013 peak of new highs in individual stocks.

I recall reading about this in the wake of the early-2000s internet stock crash where some investors were able to avoid the carnage by taking note of this development before share prices reversed course.

They say what’s different this time is that stock market leaders are the first to fall (e.g., tech and biotech shares in recent weeks), however, this may well be another case where we’re in such uncharted territory (i.e., due to the mis-pricing of assets after unprecedented central bank intervention) that historical comparisons are all but meaningless.

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The latest Gallup survey on investment preferences in the U.S. puts real estate ahead of gold and stocks for the first time in at least a few years in yet another example of how most people (at least in the U.S.) simply follow established trends.

Interestingly, those favoring real estate as the best long-term investment rose to as high as 50 percent a decade ago when the prior housing bubble was inflating.

There’s also a breakdown of preferences by income, age, and political party affiliation. Not surprisingly, those with higher incomes favor stocks and real estate over other investment choices and the appeal of gold goes up as income goes down.

By a wide margin, younger Americans think more highly of Savings accounts/CDs than do other age groups, but the most interesting part of this survey (at least to me) was how views toward equity markets change  based on party affiliation. Some 30 percent of Democrats think stocks are the best investment, but only 26 percent of Republicans agree, yet just 19 percent of independents also see it this way.

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Risk Appetite Not What it Used to Be

In this item by Humble Student of the Market (i.e., fellow Seeking Alpha contributor Cam Hui), readers are alerted to a disconcerting topping pattern in one measure of the risk appetite for U.S. stocks, though it’s important to point out that a similar “risk off” development almost exactly a year ago did little to stop the fun that was had by all.

More specifically:

The recent carnage in the high flying Biotech and Social Media stocks are well-known, but the technical effects of the damage is likely to be long lasting. The chart below shows a composite index that I built based on an equally-weighted long position in the NASDAQ 100 and Russell 2000 (high beta risk-on index) minus an equally weighted short position in the defensive sectors of Consumer Staples, Telecom and Utilities (low beta risk-off index), where the composite Risk Appetite Index is set at 100 on December 31, 2011.

As the chart shows, the Risk Appetite Index has violated an uptrend and has started to roll over. This picture of fading risk appetite forms a negative divergence when compared to the SPX, which remains in an uptrend.

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It appears that the absence of an obvious catalyst for yesterday’s brutal stock market sell-off (that is, aside from the belated realization that prices have already risen too high) has a lot of people uncomfortably scratching their heads today about whether to buy or sell and this story and video segment below from USA Today captures the sentiment fairly well.

Admittedly, I try not to read too much about this sort of thing from the mainstream financial media (yes, CNBC trotted out Marc Faber again yesterday after stocks tumbled), but a cursory review of what was being offered revealed the distinct lack of one talking point that has been popular so far this year as stocks have struggled, namely, the thinking that we should “just get this correction out of the way”, presumably so that stocks can go on to achieve their full potential, preferably sooner rather than later.

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