Stock market research guru Laszlo Birinyi says this is the kind of market he likes, and he sees plenty of opportunity even with its slow-motion moves.
"Even these days, the S&P is up 1, but Tesla is up $14 so what we've been saying is this is actually good because it keeps traders at the table. If a trader was just looking at the market, he'd take a long lunch. If he comes in and Priceline has a big move, it keeps traders in the game," said Birinyi, president of Birinyi Associates.
By the end of the first half, he expects to see 2,450 on the S&P 500, just about 50 points away. "My attitude all along has been it's going to be a steady grind upwards, and nothing dramatic," he said.
Birinyi said he's not particularly worried that the market is meandering since there are story stocks even if the S&P 500 is barely changed. "Apple's moving, Chipotle is up 9. Regeneron is up $60 in the last two weeks," he said Tuesday morning.
"I think the market is fine. Just because it's not rip-roaring doesn't mean you're not making money and one of the great secrets of this market is active funds are outperforming ... what they are doing is they are picking stocks ... and there are stocks to be picked," he said.
Birinyi said he's not really watching the VIX, the CBOE's Volatility Index, which has been trading under 10. It moved higher Tuesday as stocks turned slightly negative. He said the VIX is not that valuable, and it climbs once the market begins to slide.
"There are things to do that are going to keep the traders active, so if somebody lights a fire, they're already at the table. What's the next black swan? I don't know, but what I do know — the whole idea that the market needs a catalyst is a bad cliche," he said.
Birinyi said he gives President Donald Trump some credit for the market's rally, but not all the companies he was supposed to help have been doing well.
"The fascinating thing is you've had the Trump rally without the Trump stocks. U.S. steel, they're going to build new airports and bridges, they need steel. They were supposed to be benefitting. He certainly has helped the market, but I can't believe McDonald's is doing what it did because of Trump," he said. U.S. Steel has been slammed and was particularly bashed on the day of its earnings release last month.
"McDonald's is up 20 percent. It has nothing to do with Republicans, independents, or Russians. I think what's happening is this market is doing what it's doing, and Trump has helped in some ways but not very consistently and not on an ongoing basis," he said. "You look at Goldman Sachs, it's down from $250. He's been a boost to some stocks but not necessarily the names associated with his programs."
Trump's policies were expected to be good for financials and infrastructure plays.
Birinyi said he's seen this type of market before and it could stay in a slow grind for quite awhile.
"It reminds me of 1991. We went seven or eight months with the market doing nothing," he said. There are events that could jolt the current slow-moving market.
"You could have a good economic number. We could have Trump lose Twitter for a week. ... [Strategists] spend too much time thinking about the what ifs and what ifs never quite occur. We're in a bull market. That's the tiebreaker. We are in a bull market that just keeps creeping along. One day it's technology. The next day it's the consumer. It's a market where we want to be active."
Birinyi likes Amazon.com and Tesla, and he started liking Apple in 1997. He stays away from most energy names, but he does like Pioneer Natural Resources.
"The market may not be doing much, but for traders, there are a lot of places to play. It keeps them going, and if you do have something political, or whatever, they're waiting for it," he said.