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Market needs cyclical sector strength to keep rallying, analysts say

The earnings outlook is brighter as second-quarter reports begin to roll in, but cyclical sectors need to take the pilot's seat for stocks to continue rising, analysts said Thursday.

The S&P 500 has closed at a new all-time high for three straight sessions following Friday's better-than-expected U.S. jobs report and easing political uncertainty after Britain's prime minister contest quickly came to a successful end this week.

The fundamental explanation for the string of new highs, however, is the market's perception that the earnings recession is finally over, said Ed Keon, managing director at QMA. The market should see earnings rise about 7 or 8 percent in the second quarter compared to the first quarter, he said.

"The market's acting, I think, in anticipation of better earnings in the second half," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

But if the rally is going to continue, it cannot be driven by defensive sectors of the market like utilities and consumer staples, said Stephen Parker, head of thematic equity solutions at JPMorgan Private Bank.

"We're going to need to see some of the more cyclical parts of the market — the banks, technology, consumer — begin to do better and take on more leadership," he told "Squawk Box."

Parker said he sees opportunity in banks, whose stocks have been traded primarily on interest rate expectations. Low interest rates make it hard for banks to make money from plain vanilla operations like holding deposits.

But Parker said there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

For one, the Brexit vote has increased uncertainty, and the rise in volatility could boost trading activity at banks, he said. After rebuilding their capital bases, banks also have a room to run, can increase dividends and buy back more shares, he added.

"That could be the next place people start looking for income," he said.

Keon, however, said banks' fortunes would ultimately turn on better economic data driving interest rates higher.

On Thursday, JPMorgan Chase kicked off earnings for major banks by beating expectations on the top and bottom lines.

Tom Lee, head of research at Fundstrat Global Advisors, said the market moves this week have shown "fear-mongers and skeptics" were overly bearish.

Earnings improvement is now a bigger story for stocks than easy money from central banks, he said. Earnings pre-announcements are better than they've been in years, and positive ISM export data bode well for corporate sales growth, he added.

But he, too, acknowledged sector leadership needs to flip.

"You don't really want to make new highs and say banks and tech are sinking double digits," he told CNBC's "Worldwide Exchange" on Thursday.

Lee said banks are in a wait-and-see period as policymakers abroad push down interest rates further. But he noted established players are better businesses today because they have less leverage on their balance sheets and potential competition faces high barriers to entry.

As for the tech sector, those stocks have higher sensitivity to Asian markets, which are performing much better, Lee said.

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