A strange thing happened Wednesday on Wall Street: The market had direction. The Standard & Poor’s 500 finished the day with a 1.2 percent gain, its biggest move in either direction in more than a month.
It’s not that 1.2 percent is a particularly big jump. But after reaching record highs earlier this year, the stock market has been stalling for weeks as investors make up their minds about where the economy is headed. As Bloomberg News points out, the market hasn’t been this flat in 20 years, with stocks trading in a limit range.
The S&P and Dow Jones industrial average both came within a percentage point of wiping out their gains for the year earlier this week before regaining ground. The Dow was up about 1.3 percent Wednesday. The technology-focused Nasdaq has been more resilient. It gained 1.25 percent Wednesday and is up more than 7 percent this year.
“It’s as if the market doesn’t want to go,” said Howard Silverblatt, a senior analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “We’re holding our own, basically. That’s the new correction mode.”
That sort of uncertainty can make for a confusing time for individual investors in a market wrangling with the future of interest rates and Greece’s financial woes.
“I think people are a little bit skeptical of the big gains we’ve had the last few years,” said Sean Lynch, co-head of global equity strategy for Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “There’s always investment worries out there, but it just seems there’s healthy skepticism that this market’s going to keep going on a nice move upward.”
Lynch said he expects corporate earnings to pick up in the back half of 2015 and give the stock market a boost.
That’s why Lynch says he is looking at the sort of companies that do well as the economy grows and people have more money to spend. Think industrials, technology and discretionary spending – companies that make things, develop gadgets and attract customers who are feeling flush. If they start reporting higher revenue, market experts say that should shake the market from its slump.
The conditions are good for discretionary spending, with wages growing, home prices rising and energy costs still low. But the United States hasn’t seen much spending growth yet, making for an investment opportunity, says Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network, which manages nearly $100 billion in assets.
“We think consumers are in a pretty good spot here,” Lynch said. “Compared to a couple years ago, people should feel much better about their jobs.”
Market watchers are also eyeing financial stocks. Bond yields have jumped to their highest levels of the year, they say.
Those rising yields are attracting big investors, who are swapping out conservative stocks for bonds, analysts say. That could make utilities and consumer staples, which are popular stocks to safeguard money because they offer steady prices and high dividends, a volatile place for individual investors, they say.