Stocks in new year upswing sending positive signal, as Dow nears 25,000

  • Stocks are in an upswing that could continue as traders rotate holdings in the first sessions of the new year.
  • A positive market in the 'Santa rally' period bodes well for stocks this year, as the Dow edges near 25,000 and the S&P 500 closed above 2,700 for the first time.
  • Propelled by the tax law changes, analysts were boosting earnings expectations which should help drive the market higher.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at the closing bell, November 30, 2017 in New York City. On Thursday afternoon, the Dow closed at over 24,000 points for the first time in its history.
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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at the closing bell, November 30, 2017 in New York City. On Thursday afternoon, the Dow closed at over 24,000 points for the first time in its history.

Stocks are in a new year upswing that could draw in more buyers and spread to more sectors, as the Dow edges to the big round 25,000.

Both the Dow and the S&P 500 successfully ended the 'Santa rally' period with a gain, a positive start to the year and to the month of January —itself seen as an important harbinger for the market year. The S&P made its own psychological milestone Wednesday, finishing above 2,700 for the first time, with a gain of 0.6 percent to 2,713.

The Santa rally period includes the final five trading days of the old year and the first two of the new year, and a positive market in those sessions is a good omen for the new year and an indicator of market health, according to Stock Trader's Almanac.

"I would say the Santa rally worked out, the turkey rally worked out, and the summer rally worked out," said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com.

The Dow gained 98 points to 24,922 Wednesday, heading to 25,000 just about a month after hitting 24,000. Caterpillar was the best performer during that time, up 11.4 percent, followed by Boeing up 7.5 percent. Boeing was the best performing Dow component since the blue chip index hit 20,000, just about a year ago, with a gain of 78 percent, followed by Caterpillar, up by 60 percent in that time.

The Nasdaq jumped 0.8 percent Wednesday to 7,065, and up 2.4 percent this week, for the best start to a year since 2006.

"This has been a very methodical, technical trend that has been in place most of [last] year and ignited in December, and is getting some of the money flows in the first few days of the year," he said.

Redler, who follows short-term technicals, said there's a lot of momentum behind the current move, which took energy stocks higher over the last three weeks and also boosted tech recently. In the week-to-date, energy was up 3 percent and tech was up 2.5 percent. The losers so far this week are telecoms, down almost 2 percent and utilities, down 1.6 percent.

"It's been better to look at the price action than to look at the calendar," said Redler. "Traders have been riding the trend. Trading has been filled with opportunities to rotate among sectors and stocks." He said he is watching to see if small caps can regain highs and financial stocks will get caught in an updraft.

The stock market has been propelled in part by tax legislation, which reduces the corporate tax rate dramatically and should boost earnings. Bank of America Merrill Lynch stock analysts Wednesday raised the earnings per share forecast for the S&P 500 by $14 to $153 per share, as a result of the new lower 21 percent tax rate.

The analysts said the companies with the highest tax rates and greatest domestic exposure will benefit most from the tax bill. Sectors that should benefit the most are consumer discretionary, with earnings growth up 14 percent versus prior estimates for a 3 percent gain. They bumped telecom earnings forecasts to a gain of 12 percent from 1 percent.

The sectors that will see with the least benefit from tax reform are utilities, which should see the benefits passed on to customers because of regulated returns, and real estate, with REITs already low tax payers.

The BofA analysts also provided 2019 estimates for earnings per share of $161 for the S&P 500, with growth slowing from 16 percent to 5 percent, after some initial benefits are competed away.

For markets Thursday, a massive winter storm is heading up the east coast, with a wide range of forecasts including up to a foot forecast for the New York City area.

Natural gas futures have been racing higher on very cold weather and the storm is expected to leave behind a new wave of frigid air. Data on natural gas supply is released by the government at 10:30 a.m. ET. Weekly oil inventory data is expected at 11 a.m.

On the data front, ADP employment is released at 8:15 a.m., while initial jobless claims are released at 8:30 a.m. Services PMI is released at 9:45 a.m.

The ADP data will be key ahead of Friday's December employment report.