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USA Today's Headline—A Market Top Signal, Maybe

Wednesday, 29 May 2013 | 12:45 PM ET
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

As people drift into the CNBC lobby in the morning, they grab bundles of newspapers from the front desk. It's a routine.

Almost universally Wednesday morning when people saw the front page of USA Today, with its banner headline "Bull run gets solid footing," heads shook and there were mutters of "it's a top."

That's an outgrowth of the contrary indicator thinking that once mainstream media picks up on a market trend, be it bull, bear, pig or whatever, the trend is over.

Most point to a 1979 Businessweek article titled "The Death of Equities" as the origin. That article, of course, came before a two-decade bull market in stocks.

In USA Today's defense, the article was well-sourced and pointed out the latest economic fundamentals. (Hey, USA Today is a content partner of ours ... of course they're good!)

Is Bull Run on Safe Footing?
"In the near term we have rallied too much," said Andrew Burkly at Oppenheimer & Co. of the market's recent run. With Richard Bernstein, CEO of Richard Bernstein Advisors.

But there's some logic, albeit tenuous, to the irreverent thinking.

By the time journalist types figure out something's going on in the market, the market has usually moved on. After all, we're not the ones doing it, we're just the ones hearing about it (usually after a while). But there's a lot of confirmation bias at work here, too. People tend to remember the articles that were spectacularly wrong, not the ones that were spectacularly right.

And there's still a lot of debate about today's market.

"In the near term I do think we have rallied too much," Andrew Burkly of Oppenheimer & Co. told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" when asked about the soundness of USA Today's take.

"We could make fun of USA Today today," said CNBC stock guru Jim Cramer, noting futures were down at the time and the market was headed for a nosedive, at least for the day. (For the latest on the Dow, click here.)

Cramer: These Stocks Are Now 'Death Traps'
At the market open, Jim Cramer discusses stocks he considers "death traps."

But he went on to note that there are some rising fundamentals that feed a positive outlook.

Indeed, there is plenty of bullish sentiment. Just listen to Larry Fink's comments Wednesday. The chief of BlackRock said on "Squawk Box" that the bull market had room to run and the Dow could be surpass 28,000 in 2019.

Maybe this contrary indicator needs to be rethought. After all, the news cycle has changed, thanks to cable news, the Internet and Twitter. It doesn't take so long for market murmurs to reach reporters' ears, which make them public with a few keystrokes or a quick stand-up. Indeed, with all the real time market chatter available, maybe the contrary indicator is being contrary on the contrary indicator.

Or you can just pick up the newspaper and mutter about the headline.

_ By Allen Wastler, CNBC.com managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @AWastler.

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