What to Expect in a Bull's Second Year

With the bull market having recently hit its one-year anniversary, MarketWatch’s Jonathan Burton says investors might want to look to history for clues about what to expect in what will, hopefully, be Year Two of the bull.

“This next year, history may not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain quipped, it could rhyme,” Burton writes. “The market’s performance so far has mirrored a pattern common to every bull market since 1949, according to Standard & Poor’s Equity Research.” That pattern involves small- and mid-cap shares beating large-caps; low-quality stocks beating high-quality firms as investors’ risk appetites return; and economically cyclical sectors beating defensive sectors — all of which have occurred in the past year.

So what happens in Year Two of a bull? According to Sam Stovall, S&P Equity Research’s chief investment strategist, stocks rise but not as swiftly; small- and mid-caps keep outperforming large-caps, but the gap narrow; high-quality stocks outperform low-quality issues; and cyclical sectors tend to be the best areas of the market. (Research from James O’Shaughnessy’s firm, which we highlighted here, also finds that high-quality outperforms junk in Year Two of a bull.)

One top strategist, Ed Yardeni, tells Burton that “the second year [of a bull market] is very important because it gives you a clue for the sectors and industries that are likely to perform for several years as long as the economy is growing.” With that in mind, Yardeni says he’s currently high on technology firms, which he says should do well in a future that he envisions will have “a global economy where growth is led to a large extent by emerging economies.” He’s also high on consumer discretionary stocks.

A big issue going forward, Burton writes, is whether the recent bullish run is the start of a long-term bull, or instead a bull run within a broader bear market. Some, including strategists at Ned Davis Research, believe the latter, that stocks are in a “cyclical bull” market within a “secular bear”, Burton says. Based on historical trends, that would mean the bull would last only about another five months, according to Ned Davis Research.

Yardeni isn’t so sure that’s the case. “There are some powerful trends out there,” he said. “A good way to miss the bull market is to dismiss it as cyclical. When there is a consensus like that, your contrarian instincts should come out.”

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