Interestingly in 2009, Wall Street was expecting a big year even as the financial crisis was in full swing. The strategists projected a 16.9 percent gain, but got a 23.5 percent increase instead. Their best year was 2010, when the average forecast missed 2.7 percent of the move, and the S&P 500 gained 12.8 percent.
Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at Jones Trading, said he does not publish an S&P target, since a year away is too much of an educated guess. "The market's going to do what it's going to do. As investors, you look for risk versus opportunity," he said.
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O'Rourke also points out that the earnings estimates used by the strategists to crunch their year-end numbers are based on earnings that he says are lower quality because of all the corporate share buyback programs.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts track the behavior of strategists in their "sell side indicator" and see a contrarian call in their forecasts. Since the 1980s, they have done a monthly survey of key equity strategists, asking them what their equity allocation would be in a balanced fund.
Currently, the strategists have stocks at 51 percent—a bullish sign. "Traditionally by the textbook definition, the historical benchmark allocation is 60 to 65 percent equities," said Jill Carey Hall, BofAML equity strategist.
"When everyone is bearish, that's been a good contrarian indicator in terms of a buy signal," she said.
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The best year recently for that indicator was 2013, the very same year the strategists were wrong about oversized market gains. Hall said other indicators that year were not showing the same bullishness for stocks that showed up in the "sell side indicator."
For the near term, traders are focused on the Fed meeting next week, and whether the central bank will tweak its statement to show it is closer to raising rates. They mostly expect the Fed to signal a pending rate hike by removing the word "patience" from its statement, a precursor to a rate hike which economists mostly expect to be in June or September.
O'Rourke said Tuesday could be a relatively quiet market day, but things should heat up as next week approaches. "As you get closer to the event, the market should have started expressing a little more concern about it, especially if removing the word 'patient' is likely," he said.
What to watch
Tuesdays data includes the NFIB small-business report at 9 a.m. ET, and the JOLTs survey on job openings and turnover and wholesale trade, both at 10 a.m.
Earnings are expected from Barnes & Noble and Surgical Care Affiliates before the bell. American Eagle Outfitters, Analogic, VeriFone and Habit Restaurants report after the closing bell.
After unveiling its iWatch Monday, Apple meets shareholders at its annual meeting at noon EDT in Cupertino, California.