Market Insider

The S&P 500 is about to hit record levels, and that could be the start of another big move higher

Key Points
  • The S&P 500 is on track to surpass its old record high, and while it could see a shakeout around that level, technical strategists see a big move higher.
  • A surge of activity in underperforming sectors as tech stalls out is helping lift the broad S&P despite tech's dominance.
  • Technical strategists, who follow charts, say the fact tech has passed the baton to industrials, materials, transports and others is a positive and makes for a stronger market foundation from which to move higher.
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The S&P 500 is nearing its all-time high, a level that could serve as a launch pad for bigger gains.

Technical analysts, who watch stock charts more than fundamentals, say there are some very good signs of strength in the latest move in the S&P 500,  as investors diversify into lagging sectors. The S&P 500 closed lower in a sharp reversal, after seven days of gains.

It closed at 3,333, down 0.8%, after trading about a half percent below its Feb. 19 intraday high of 3,393.52. It was also just short of its closing high is 3386.15. The benchmark is more than 53% off its March 23 low of 2,191.86.

As the S&P flirted with its highs, the market was showing signs of being overbought and technicians say it's very possible a pullback could come along with the new high before it then recharges for another move higher.

"Let's not confuse pausing or consolidating at the high with the end of the rally," said Chris Verrone, technical strategist at Strategas. "The market is on stronger footing today than at any time over the last several months. It's not just tech driven."

The fact that neglected sectors like industrials, materials and banks ares leading is a positive for the market and shows a broadening that is key for future gains. Transportation shares were also much higher, with airline stocks up about 3% Tuesday. The S&P industrial sector was up 1.8%, and the financial sector was up 2.6%.

Five big stocks have been responsible for the bulk of S&P returns for the past year - Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet. Together, they are more than 20% of the total market cap of the S&P 500. They have also propelled Nasdaq, which has been hitting new highs since June. The Nasdaq was hit even harder Tuesday, falling 1.7% to 10,782. 

"I think what is underappreciated is that it's more than just tech and communications that's working...We're accustomed to tech leading, but I don't think it needs to lead. Industrials have the highest statistical significance with the S&P index itself," Verrone said. "When industrials are going higher, it tends to be good. Empirically, industrials matter more. Their improvement and participation is a really important development."

Verrone said he watches the performance of cyclical industrials versus utilities, a safe haven, and that's sending a positive signal. As industrials gained 0.5%  Tuesday, the utilities  lost 2.1%. Industrials are up 13.7% over the past month.

The weakening dollar has also been a positive factor lifting stocks. "I'm a believer that the dollar is undergoing a major trend change, and we're seeing the end of dollar supremacy," said Verrone. "I worry it's a little overdone on the downside, and maybe you get a bounce but structurally, the dollar regime is changing and that offers long term tailwinds for groups like industrials."

Robert Sluymer, technical strategist at Fundstrat, said the pause in big tech is not bad for the market, and it does not indicate that they've hit a peak. He too sees positives in the rotation into other sectors.

"The key point here is the airlines, like other social distancing stocks, casinos, cruise lines, those are finally starting to come up. The rails have been great. Stocks like trucker are unbelievable. Truckers have been terrific performers. They've been working and leading and I think that's a healthy sign," said Sluymer.  The so-called reopening stocks have not been performing this well since they first took off in May and June.

Industrials like Deere and Union Pacific hit new highs Tuesday. Some of the stocks Sluymer is watching as new leaders include United Rentals, now 155% off its lows. He recommends that, along with Dover Corp and Norfolk Southern in the industrials. Stocks he sees bottoming are Teledyne, Alaska Air, Avis Budget and Dycom.

Sluymer said he believes the market is in a bull cycle that could run into 2022. "More and more stocks in the industrials have been starting to outperform the market," he said. "I think that's pretty positive. I think the call is to be bullish, at least through year end." Sluymer said he would use a pullback as an excuse to buy the dip.

"Could we get a near term pullback? Yes," he said, noting the market is overbought and some parts of it are running hot. "The underlying rotation is the bigger theme in the markets."

Frank Cappelleri, Instinet executive director, said he sees the possibility of a pullback , and it's evident in how many days the S&P has gained. The S&P, on track for an eighth day of gains, was last up for eight consecutive sessions in April, 2019, and it has not been up nine days in a row since November, 2004.

"That lining up with a potential eight day winning streak suggests that an adjustment period is due in my view," he said. But he also sees bigger gains ahead, and sees a measured move in the S&P to 3,500.

"The question everyone is asking is can we trust this move in the value sectors this time? We've seen it before. It was even stronger in May and June," he said. "I would say this time is different because of some of the bottoming formations have matured."

He said technology can trade sideways for awhile as the market gains. "Longer term, if the largest tech names not just continue to have trouble, but roll over, that's a different story," he said.