March's Stock Market Rally Becoming a Global Affair
While financial stocks generate the sexy headlines, the March stock market rally has been about a lot more than Bank of America and Citigroup.
The 10 percent rise in indexes over the past week, instead, has been highlighted by a wide-swath of buying that has spread beyond the shorelines of the United States and into a renewed belief in markets around the world.
Those bullish on the domestic market continuing a slow recovery are betting it will be led as much by international investments as it is by the bread-and-butter companies that traditionally slay the bears.
"The global buildout cannot stop, will not stop. The fact is that only 5 percent of the world's population lives in this country," said Jordan Kimmel, fund manager at Magnet Investing in Randolph, N.J. "It's not only the banks—it's way beyond the banks."
The global move has been backed up by exchange-traded funds that benefit when emerging markets grow.
The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index has gained about 17 percent and the Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF is up more than 12 percent in March alone.
The international strategy fits a popular scenario: As the dollar rally starts to run out of steam ahead of massive government deficits, parts of the global trade will improve.
That sentiment has triggered optimism in commoditiesas well as various parts of the shipping and materials sectors that would benefit from a global buildout.
"We've seen a pretty direct inverse correlation between the dollar and the stock market recently," said Chip Hanlon, president of Delta Global Advisors in Huntington Beach, Calif. "If you become a little more bullish you might want to lean overseas. Over the last eight months or so foreign holdings have gotten crushed, doubly so because of dollar strength."
Prior to talk about adjusting accounting rules that have made it difficult for banks to price the distressed assets on their books, Hanlon had seen the market mired in a quagmire of myopic government policies and uncertainty about the future of the economy.
Since then, he said, there has been more clarity about the White House's approach and thus more confidence in the markets and benefits across the board in international markets and commodities, particularly gold.
"Folks might be surprised at how much liquidity washes into this economy (as a result of the accounting rule changes). The pump has been primed," Hanlon said. "I don't like the long-term fundamentals we're laying down with all this spending, but I think the bears could be in for a real bath. For some period of time we could get a real wash in liquidity and a burst of economic activity as a result."
LITTLE CHANCE OF 'V'-TYPE RECOVERY
To be sure, the global recession continues, and few predict a sharp, continuous move higher.
Despite his own bullish stance, Kimmel dismisses the possibility of a typical "V" recovery where the market takes a direct route up. Instead, he sees fits and starts and a probable retesting of the recent lows.
That said, he's a strong buyer in this environment, seeing an advantage for buyers who invest on a dollar-cost average—picking up stocks on the dips, and thus lowering the point where they will break even. Hesitation in such a climate, Kimmel said, can be costly.
"What we're seeing really is an absence of selling right now, and we're so oversold that even the most bearish guys were clearing out their shorts anticipating a rally," Kimmel said. "For this to become a bull market again, we need to see some sort of downward attempt again and then a higher bottom be put in and a higher top be put in."
Kimmel points to the recent spate in merger and acquisition activity in the pharmaceutical industry that shows market leadership extending beyond financials.
"Corporations outside the financial industry are flush with cash. We've seen biotech, Big Pharma deals—next we'll see some energy deals, resource deals, technology deals," he said. "People will realize that many excellent cash-flow companies are at really attractive valuation levels. It was in fact a few big deals taking place where people were beginning to realize that the world was not ending."
None of this is to say that there isn't strong belief that this could still be a bear market rally. Portfolio managers warn of a possible additional leg down in the markets that should keep investors from going all-in before more tangible signs of a true rebound occur.
"This is a bounce, not a bottom. We've got to retest it to see if it's a bottom," Jack Bouroudjian, chairman at Capital Markets Technology, told CNBC. "We need to believe what we see until the appetite for risk returns." See Bouroudjian's comments in the accompanying video.
The Dow could hit 7,500 or 7,600 or a bit higher, but "nobody I speak to thinks we're starting a new bull run," Steve Grasso, of Stuart Frankel, said on CNBC.
That fear has some market pros still betting against the market until a stronger sense of normalcy returns.
"We're looking for an opportunity to short," said Matthew Tuttle, president of Tuttle Wealth Management.
Tuttle mostly uses exchange-traded funds to short the market, and he said he'll be making broad-based plays against the market sustaining its move higher.
"The couple of rallies just kind of soured me on bear market rallies as a good predictor of the bottom," Tuttle said. "Eventually one of these rallies will be the bottom. It just doesn't seem like a whole lot has changed except the fact that we're oversold and due for a bounce."CNBC.com Slideshows: