Behind the Money

Got Any Idea Where Stocks Are Headed? Us Neither


If you're confused about the market, you're not alone.

According to a recent survey, investors who consider themselves bullish, bearish or neutral on stocks are evenly divided into exact thirds, an extremely rare occurance.

That's right. Each of the three groups comes in at exactly 33.1 percent, according to the widely-watched American Association of Individual Investors Sentiment Survey.

The explanation seems to be that no one quite knows that to make of the market these days.

“Individual investors are getting a lot of mixed signals,” said Charles Rotblut, vice president at the investor education group. “The data is suggesting the economy is continuing to improve, but many people know someone who is out of work or who is struggling financially. Stocks are performing well, but Europe isn’t resolved and the Fiscal Cliff looms.”

Stocks continue to defy the uncertainty reflected in this survey, with the S&P 500 rallying to a four-year high Thursday after the head of the to buy sovereign debt to keep borrowing costs for troubled countries in the region down.

Some market observers believe the continued confusion among investors will only keep fueling the rally as bears are converted into buyers.

“Market participants are deeply anxious and despondent after years of crisis, whipsaw and increased global macro complexity,” said Phil Pearlman, executive editor of “But this is the stuff new bull markets are built upon.”

Still, one must marvel at the exact division among investors in this survey.

The AAII has been asking its members to characterize their six-month outlook on stocks since 1987. Out of those 1300 weekly readings, it seems the 33 percent split has only occurred about two other times, according to data provided by Rotblut.

“No one can blame investors for having mixed emotions about being optimistic versus pessimistic,” said Mitch Goldberg, a financial advisor and president of ClientFirst Strategy. “Mostly, I attribute this to our near complete dependence on central bank intervention.”

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