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S&P 1,500: The Last Barrier Before a New Record?

The Standard & Poor's 500 has only one more psychological barrier to break through as it continues its trek toward what many on Wall Street consider to be an inevitable new all-time high.

Only the 1,500 barrier remains between the major index and its 2007 record of 1,565.

While many traders usually dismiss the big, round numbers as having little meaning from a fundamental or technical standpoint, eclipsing this mark could be different.

Market veteran Art Cashin, the floor operations manager for UBS, mentioned the figure in his morning note Tuesday.


"Bulls need a breakout punch like S&P through 1500," he said. "Currency wars heat up quickly. Be alert and stay very nimble."

The currency reference is an expected battle this year between central banks looking to drive their currencies lower to spur imports and inflate stock and commodity prices. The Bank of Japan is the latest entrant to the competitive devaluation arena, vowing to launch an asset purchase operation that would be less ambitious but modeled after the U.S. Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program. (Read More: First Shots Are Fired in Global 'Currency War')

In the Fed's case, a $3 trillion balance sheet expansion has helped propel a 120 percent S&P 500 gain. over the past four years.

The 1,500 billboard could become just a signpost along the way if current chart patterns hold up.

"We're already confirmed to go maybe not exactly to the all-time high but pretty darned close," said Abigail Doolittle, technical strategist at Seaport Group in New York. "Depending on how you calculate the targets for these inverse head-and-shoulders (patterns), we're already confirmed for 1,525 to 1,550."

The type of pattern Doolittle referenced involves a pair of price troughs, or bottoming points, with the second trough higher than the first and a breakout following.

Doolittle has issued bearish calls in the past and still believes the long-term picture of the stock market is troubling, but sees Fed liquidity driving the market now. Similar chart patterns have appeared during the first two rounds of QE and both were positive for the market - "rock stars," as she put it. (Read More: What Will It Take to Get the Fed to Stop Easing?)


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"It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out. It's unbelievable that the Fed has been able to pull this off," she said. "I applaud them because it hasn't collapsed yet, but I'll be shocked if there's not some severe market action to the downside, very similar to 2000 and 2007."

While the round number are often dismissed, they can prove formidable barriers.

The S&P 500 struggled for three months in 2012 to clear 1,400, but once it did the average zoomed higher. The Dow industrials waged a similar battle with 13,000, and the Nasdaq tech gauge also used a late-year break of 3,000 to climb.

"If it was the first time we were hitting the big, round number it could represent resistance. We've already been through there a couple times," said Mark Arbeter, chief technical strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "The completion of some chart formations suggests we could have measured moves back up towards the all-time highs in the first quarter."

The market's stubborn march higher despite the array of factors against it - weak earnings, political tensions in Washington and a European recession to name three - have market bears feeling fairly helpless.

"This is a very frustrating market," said Kathy Boyle, president of Chapin Hill Advisors. "It's times like this when I feel like throwing in the towel. That's when I feel like I should stick to my guns."

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