Frankly, it’s almost a little embarrassing. April was a wild month for stocks. We came into it with a truckload of bullish momentum, carrying the multi-month rally all the way up to a 17% gain by April 2. Then the sellers pulled the rug out from underneath the market, sending us lower by 4.2% just five trading days later. The rest of the month the bulls and bears fought a fierce battle, fueled by alarming housing market data, encouraging retail sales, tame inflation and a mixed bag on the earnings front.
So what’s the embarrassing part? Despite all the effort from either side of the table, the S&P 500 ended up falling a nearly immeasurable 0.7% last month. The Dow literally gained less than two points in April. We could have taken the month off.
Still, even when things are stagnant, there’s something worth tucking away in the back of your head. Here are those ‘tuck-aways” for April:
Small Strokes Paint the Bigger Picture
What the heck happened on April 3 that torpedoed the market’s incredible momentum?
It seems like forever ago, but the Federal Reserve got the bearish ball rolling by saying another round of quantitative easing wasn’t likely to be in the cards. Never mind the fact that it was a decision based on good news — the economy still is growing on its own. With investors wanting everything, the announcement spurred enough disappointment to keep the market headed lower for a week.
Click to Enlarge Then on Wednesday the 11th, stocks did an about-face thanks to easing concerns about Spain’s and Italy’s bonds, as well as a surprise swing to a profit from Alcoa (NYSE:AA) … the unofficially official harbinger of earnings season. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) spurred the last day of the rally on the 17th thanks to a spectacular earnings beat.
Unfortunately, the ensuing pop from Apple shares started to unravel the next day, with the overall market mirroring the same retraction through the 24th. When Apple struck again on the 25th with another one-day wonder move, however, it pulled the overall market higher with it. To give credit where it’s due, though, 3M (NYSE:MMM), AT&T (NYSE:T) and a few other blue chips fanned the bullish flames that same day by beating their earnings estimates as well. While AAPL once again failed to follow through with the bullish effort, the broader market kept chugging higher almost to the very end of the month.
Yet, it just wasn’t enough to get the market back above the point where it finished off March. It’s got to be a pretty big letdown for the faithful who just decided to ride it out, assuming the rebound efforts would get meaningful traction.
So what’s it all mean, and more important, what’s next?
Is 2012 a ‘Sell in May and go away’ Kind of Year?
Before making a major buy/sell decision for the next few months — or even the next few days — understand that sometimes stocks reflect their underlying fundamental value, and sometimes they just do things because momentum and extreme opinion can push them around.
It’s an important idea to accept first, because some perspective is needed to combine two seemingly opposing forces.
The good news is, despite the fact that Apple’s contribution to the whole shebang is greatly skewing the strength of last quarter’s earnings, by and large, Q1’s income reports have been better than expected and have at least shown net growth (of about 1.6%, excluding Apple). It’s not “like gangbusters,” but it’ll work.
The bad news is, despite the reasonably strong finish for last month, the market really hasn’t done anything that says we’re in a strong technical uptrend. It’s certainly not the kind of growth that can stave off the market’s summertime malaise; the market’s late-April strength was due more to volatility rather than a concerted buying frenzy. The make-or-break level for the S&P 500 right now is 1,420. Let’s see if we can make our way past there before jumping to any bullish conclusions. Just don’t get your hopes up, because we’re now entering the most lethargic time of year for stocks.
In other words, for the long haul, everything’s fine. For the near-term, though, there’s little to be excited about.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.