Holiday decorations aren’t the only thing starting early

Jeremy Bales | Bloomberg | Getty Images

It's not just Christmas decorations going up earlier these days. Fund managers and analysts are moving up their market outlooks for the new year.

"Every year it gets earlier," said Cecilia Chan, HSBC's chief investment officer for fixed income in Asia. "In the past, I was asked to give a market outlook in January," and even that was moved back from as late as March as requests come in ever sooner, she said.

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"It's a bit strange. They assume that December is a holiday," Chan said. "People are quite complacent."

The flood of reports hasn't abated even though many arrived before some major market surprises. For example, last week, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) surprised the market by cutting its 12-month benchmark lending and deposit rates.

This week, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) also came in far stronger than initially expected in the third quarter, estimated at 3.9 percent on-year, revised from the 3.5 percent reported last month.

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Japan also upset the apple cart on many prognosticators, with the Bank of Japan unleashing another massive monetary stimulus wave and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling a snap election, likely in December, to shore up his political support.

A sense of comfort

Others also see complacency as behind decisions to publish outlooks a bit earlier.

"Most of us are comfortable with the assumptions for next year, so they just roll off the keyboard," said Song Seng Wun, head of research at CIMB in Singapore. "That's really because the feeling is that next year will be similar to what we have seen the last few months," he said. "The risk is always the unknown. The known risks we say 'ok, they're not likely to blow up.'"

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Some think it's because the blow up has already blown over.

"The October meltdown that happened -- I think everyone expected that to stay on and that made a much more bearish outlook and the recovery has given everybody a bit more confidence," said Bhaskar Laxminarayan, chief investment officer at Swiss private bank Pictet. "You had one sharp correction and up. Maybe the year will ride out without too much more drama."

Of course, December's market moves can bring some drama with them.

"It is not unusual to have higher volatility in December," HSBC's Chan said, noting that volume tends to trail off as fund managers close their books for the year, making it easier for large orders to sway the market either up or down.

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Indeed, since 1950, the S&P 500 has averaged a 1.7 percent gain in December, suggesting markets won't be sitting still.

Vacation time

End-of-year vacations can also put a damper on volume -- as well as spur analysts to publish before leave begins.

To an extent, leaving on vacation is a sign that market players feel confident there aren't any black swans flocking on the horizon.

Former Bear Stearns CEO James Cayne became a poster-child for ill-timed vacation planning. In 2007, amid a nascent global financial crisis, two of his company's hedge funds were melting down, faced with demands for redemptions and more collateral. At the time, Cayne was competing in a bridge tournament without access to a mobile phone or e-mail, a blunder that cratered the market's confidence in Bear Stearns, which collapsed in March of 2008 and was sold for $2 a share to JPMorgan.

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Of course, in the financial industry, vacation timing isn't always a choice. In the wake of Societe Generale's experience with rogue trader Jerome Kerviel, who racked up losses of around 5 billion euros by early 2008, many banks now require annual leave, sometimes proscribed at year-end, to allow others to examine trading books.

Kerviel eschewed the French love of vacations and didn't take time off, then rather famously declared: "A trader who doesn't take vacation is a trader who doesn't want to let anyone else look at his book."

But it may not just be the vacations pushing analysts to publish earlier. It may just be year-end "tis the season" optimism.

"Keep your fingers crossed and pencil in next year as a better year and then you get the revisions downward," Song said. "One year it will be all right."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1