The S&P 500 Index (SPX) closed today at $2205, up two points. But a glance at the price chart is rather shocking. SPX has rocketed higher since November 4th, up $120 or 5.8%. This incredible run has occurred over 13 trading sessions or less than three weeks! By contrast, S&P 500 was up less than 3% over all of 2015, and that was only if you included the stock dividends.
Let's take a look at the small cap stocks, as represented by the Russell 2000 Index (RUT). These are the high beta stocks that move faster than the blue chips, whether the overall market is trading higher or lower. These are the classic "risk on" stocks. RUT closed today at $1342, up $8. Since November 4th, RUT has gained $179 or 15.4%. Wow! A broad market index is up over 15% in less than three weeks. That must have set a record. RUT broke its old all-time high on November 11th, and proceeded to set eight new all-time highs out of nine trading sessions since November 11th. RUT makes SPX look like an old man trying to keep up with the kids in a hundred yard dash.
Can this incredible rally be sustained? History and simple probabilities would say no. But the statisticians will tell us that the probabilities of any stock making a three standard deviation move is infinitesimally small. But those of us in the market every day find that five and six standard deviation moves are not that unusual. This strong market rally was not a highly probable event, but it happened.
What is driving this rally? Regardless of your politics, one has to give the election of Donald Trump the credit. Market analysts believe that the proposed economic plans, especially corporate and individual tax reforms, will stimulate economic growth. Hence, the financial stocks have been on fire. Take a look at the price chart for Goldman Sachs (GS). Analysts are expecting another booming economic era on Wall Street similar to the mid to late 1980s.
The minutes from the last FOMC meeting were released today, and portions of those minutes appear to make an interest rate hike at the December meeting a near certainty. In the past, even a hint of a rate hike sent the traders scrambling for the exits. The rate hike last December resulted in a 12% correction in the first quarter of this year. Will this rate hike be different?
If traders remain convinced that "happy days are here again", we may easily survive a 25 basis point rate hike. But we have another powerful force that may at least temporarily temper this bull market. As fund managers look at the nice gains that have piled up over the past few weeks and contemplate year end bonuses, the temptation to sell and take profits will be growing. The rate hike coming out of the next Fed meeting on December 14th may be the trigger for that profit-taking. Don't be caught unaware.