Markets & Stocks
Quite a streak
Stocks have rarely gone for so long without a selloff. Can the rally last?
January 11, 2004: 12:24 AM EST
By Justin Lahart, CNN/Money Senior Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Any day now the market is going to turn south. Really.

We're not talking bear market, heaven forfend, just one of those quick jogs down that foster a little worry among investors -- a little reminder that the stock market is a two way street.

Such a correction would be a long time coming. The S&P 500 hasn't experienced a selloff that took it 5 percent or more from its closing high of the previous 90 days since late March of last year. You have to go all the way back to 1996 to find a streak that lasted so long, according to

"The best thing that could happen is for this market to have a reasonable correction," said Scott Larry Rice, vice president at investment firm Janney Montgomery Scott. "I would have thought we would have had one a long time ago."

For Rice, the lack of any serious pullback is a sign that investors have reverted to the same sort of buy-the-dips mentality that got them into trouble in the late 1990s -- even the slightest selloff is being greeted as a buying opportunity.

But just because people like Rice think it would be good medicine for stocks to slip doesn't mean the bitter pill is going to get served up anytime soon. It's a brand new year, optimism is running high and, as Rice himself points out, money is flowing into mutual funds. The fourth-quarter earnings season will kick off in the week ahead, and it looks like companies will post their strongest profit growth in over a decade. (Click here for the week's key earnings reports and here for a lineup of the week's other events.)

Moreover, just because the market has gone so long without a significant drop doesn't mean that it can't keep going. The streak without a 5 percent drop in the S&P that ended in July 1996 began in December of 1994.

"I constantly hear the market can't keep going higher, that this advance has gone too far to fast and that a major decline is imminent," said Midwest Research equity market strategist Tony Dwyer. "But every time I try to find an indicator to make me want to sell, I find something that makes me want to stay long and get longer instead."


Besides steeling themselves for fourth-quarter earnings season, investors will have to work through a flurry of economic reports in the week ahead.

Unlike Friday's disappointing jobs report, the news should be good. Both the December retail sales report, due out Thursday, and the December report on industrial production should show that the demand side of the economy running strong, according to Citigroup economist Chris Wiegand.

Meantime, the producer price index on Wednesday and the consumer price index on Thursday will likely show that inflation at both the wholesale and consumer levels remains quite low -- although higher energy prices and the run-up in meat prices following the news of an U.S. incidence of mad cow disease could show their effects.

Put quickly growing demand, low inflation and a still-soft job market together and what you see is an economy where productivity may be even more of a force. That carries some big risks, certainly, but Wiegand also points out that it means the Fed can let the economy run at a much faster rate than it has in the past.

Key events in the week ahead

  • Tuesday the Labor Department releases figures on import and export prices for December. Typically not a closely watched report, it has lately garnered attention as the prices of imported consumer goods have begun showing annual rises for the first time since 1996. Overall import prices, less oil, rose by 0.3 percent in November. Export prices, less agriculture, rose by 0.2 percent.
  • Economists polled by forecast the trade deficit for November, due out Wednesday, to come in at $42 billion, up from October's $41.8 billion.
  • December's producer price index, also slated for Wednesday, is expected to show a 0.2 percent increase in prices at the wholesale level, compared with a 0.3 percent decline in November. The core, which excludes food and energy, is expected to climb 0.1 percent versus a 0.1 percent decline in November.
  • Wednesday afternoon the Fed releases the beige book, a collection of anecdotal evidence on the state of the economy put together by the regional Federal Reserve banks.
  • Thursday's release of the consumer price index is expected to show that consumer inflation picked up 0.1 percent in December after declining by 0.1 percent in November. The core CPI is expected to tack on 0.1 percent against a November decline of 0.2 percent.
  • December retail sales, due out Thursday, are expected to show a gain of 0.5 percent, versus November's gain of 0.9 percent.
  • The New York Fed releases the January read on its Empire State Index of manufacturing activity in its region Thursday. In December it came in at 37.4. Any number over zero represents expansion.
  • The Philly Fed's more closely-watched index of manufacturing in its region, also due out Thursday, is expected to come in at 30, down from 32.1 in December. Any number over zero represents expansion.
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  • November business inventories, due out Friday, are expected to show a gain of 0.2 percent versus October's 0.4 percent gain.
  • The Fed's report on industrial production and capacity utilization, slated for Friday, is expected to show production picked up by 0.6 percent in December versus a 0.9 percent gain in November. The utilization rate is expected to rise to 76 percent from November's 75.7 percent.
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