Santoli: The bull that sure feels like a bear

Yellow "Caution" tape is displayed outside of the New York Stock Exchange.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Yellow "Caution" tape is displayed outside of the New York Stock Exchange.

The "Forever War" describes an America nominally at peace but fixed in a combative stance, constantly battling hostile forces across the world in expensive, distracting campaigns.

The stock market is starting to feel caught in its own drawn-out war against stubborn threats, and its own expensive, defensive posture has come to dominate Wall Street despite a placid surface.

Though the Standard & Poor's 500 has tacked sideways for more than a year and a half and is up a bit more than 1 percent for 2016, the market's wartime footing is everywhere apparent.

The ultimate defensive sectors that typically shine in bear markets have carried the index. The utilities, telecommunications and consumer staples groups made up only 15.5 percent of the S&P 500 to start the year, but without their gains of 6 to 17 percent, the benchmark would be in the red for 2016.