When one of Wall Street’s best-known prognosticators said this past week that the Dow Jones industrials would reach 12,500 by year’s end, at least a few market watchers were flabbergasted.
For the blue chips to reach the goal set by Goldman Sachs chief market strategist Abby Joseph Cohen, they’d have to rise more than 19 percent over the next five months although investors, with little inclination to buy, have kept stocks mired in a narrow trading range.
Cohen’s prediction for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, a broader measure of the market, was even more bullish – a gain of 28 percent to 1,550 by the end of 2001.
“It’s an excellent time to look at technology,” Cohen told CNBC Wednesday, adding that she also likes consumer cyclicals, including home builders and retailers, that tend to do better in stronger economies. She also recommended financial services firms.
But her enthusiasm is far from universal on Wall Street. With the major indexes still below where they started the year – the Dow down nearly 3 percent, the Nasdaq composite index off 16 percent and the S&P lagging by 8 percent – there is a lot of persuading to do.
“It’s unlikely. Nothing’s impossible, but I would say there’s still no indication that we are on the cusp of the kind of rally that would create something like this,” said Richard Dickson, technical analyst at Hilliard Lyons.
“I’d say that 1,550 is on the optimistic end,” said Charles Crane, strategist for Victory SBSF Capital Management. “A lot of things have to go right for the market to achieve those levels. Earnings estimates especially will have to start to rise.”
Many say it will be next year before the market really starts to rise.
Tom Galvin, chief market officer at Credit Suisse First Boston, issued his own forecast for the S&P during the week, putting it at 1,500 – for the end of 2002. Previously, he had predicted the index would reach 1,550 by that time.
Still, he sees the beginnings of a market recovery by late this year, even if the actual economic revival doesn’t take hold for another few months. The market normally advances or falls before the economy does. But Galvin’s enthusiasm is limited, particularly when it comes to technology.
While stalwarts like healthcare are expected to continue their strong growth, the outlook for transportation, technology and cyclical stocks – those whose performance is tied to the economy – is less promising. He said that’s because companies still have too much inventory and the economy isn’t growing quickly enough to justify new orders.
The inability to guess when business will improve, particularly in the area of technology, also has been a significant obstacle to the market’s advancement. Many investors, unsure of what to expect next, are reluctant to do the kind of buying needed to support a broad advance across the indexes.
That was true this past week. Although semiconductor stocks, which are frequently considered a precursor to a wider advance, enjoyed a nice bump up — the widely-followed Philadelphia Semiconductor Index rose about 7 percent — the buying only marginally nudged the broad market forward.
Galvin believes Wall Street is still waiting for a firm signal that better times are ahead before buying.
“To make this market show any substantial rise, it’s not just going to be less bad news but materially obviously good news, like new orders or a bigger than expected rate cut by the Fed,” he said in an interview. “Until that happens it’s going to be slow grinding ahead.”
In the big picture, though, the major stock indexes’ progress may be of limited value.
The Dow, S&P and Nasdaq are based on a select group of mostly large-cap stocks.
They don’t reflect the track record of specific segments of the market, like healthcare, energy, or smaller-sized companies’ stocks.
“I would pay attention to investor sentiment, where value might be,” said Crane, the Victory SBSF strategist. “I spend very little time worrying about indexes and I think investors should spend virtually no time on then.”
The market ended the week mostly flat, although gains in semiconductor stocks did help the Nasdaq. The index gained 1.8 percent or 37.26 over the week, overcoming a Friday loss of 21.05 that left the Nasdaq at 2,066.25.
The Dow ended the week up 96.11 points or 0.9 percent, despite falling 38.40 to 10,512.78 Friday. The S&P 500 index rose 8.53 for the week, a 0.7 percent rise. It slipped 6.40 Friday to 1,214.35.
The Russell 2000 index, which tracks the performance of smaller company stocks, slipped 1.84 to 487.15 Friday. It ended the week up 2.14, or 0.4 percent.
The Wilshire Associates Equity Index, the market value of New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq issues, was $11.242 trillion Friday, down $77.74 billion from the previous week. A year ago, the index was $13.619 trillion.
Lisa Singhania is a business writed for The Associated Press