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Sanguine Investors Push Stocks to Cycle Highs

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This marks the one-year anniversary of the bear market low.

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Shrugging off some lingering reminders of the credit crisis and recession, investors last week marked the one-year anniversary of the bear market low by pushing many benchmark equity indices to cycle highs.

Wall Street scaled 17-month highs on the back of easing concerns of sovereign debt defaults and increased hopes for a global economic recovery as the US dollar pulled back and the CBOE Volatility (VIX) Index approached 22-month lows. The Index is also referred to as the "fear gauge" of US stock markets and is used as a contrary indicator that moves inversely to equity prices, as seen in the chart below where it is plotted against the S&P 500 Index.



Meanwhile, US Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd plans to introduce a revised version of a financial regulatory reform bill on Monday. Dodd had hoped to release a bipartisan bill but has been unable to do so. Not a moment too soon, as a 2,200-page report by Anton Valukas, appointed by a US court to probe the reasons for Lehman's failure in September 2008, raised serious questions about the bank's top management, including former CEO Dick Fuld, and auditors Ernst & Young, reported the Financial Times.

The past week's performance of the major asset classes is summarized in the chart below -- a set of numbers indicating that a degree of risk-taking has crept back into financial markets. Interestingly, similar to a number of stock market indices, investment-grade corporate bonds also scaled fresh cycle peaks, whereas high-yield bonds are testing their January highs. Although yields on US government bonds didn't change much on the week, the bond market was actually quite strong in light of the US Treasury being able to sell $74 billion in 3-, 10- and 30-year Notes and Bonds at lower-than-expected yields. Fears of further monetary tightening in China weighed on the Shanghai Composite Index (shown in the table of global stock market performance lower down) and commodities. Gold and silver were also out of favor.



A summary of the movements of major global stock markets for the past week and various other measurement periods is given in the table below.

The cyclical bull market that commenced on March 9, 2009 celebrated its first anniversary with gains across a broad front. The MSCI World Index and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index gained 1.4% and 1.8% respectively. Among mature markets, Japan (+3.7%) reached its highest close in seven weeks in expectation that further easing of monetary policy by the Bank of Japan (BoJ) on Wednesday will weaken the yen and boost exporters. The only weak spots were a few emerging markets such as China (-0.6%), Russia (-0.3%), and Venezuela (-0.1%). Notwithstanding the huge rally since the March lows, only the Chile Stock Market General Index has been able to reclaim its 2007 pre-crisis peak and is now trading 9.3% higher. Mexico and Israel could be the next countries to eliminate the bear market losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Index and the S&P 500 Index are still 25.0% and 26.5% respectively down on their October 2007 bull market peaks.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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