Conditions set for Santa Claus rally

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    NEW YORK- A year after the US stock market plunged, many investors believe conditions are in place to avoid another year-end pullback and possibly set the stage for a rally to finish off 2019.

    A more accommodative Federal Reserve compared with a year ago is an important argument for investors who are confident the market is unlikely to see a repeat of 2018’s swoon.

    Last year, investors were concerned the Fed was raising interest rates too quickly. By contrast, the Fed has been cutting rates this year, and while the central bank is not expected to lower rates again in December, it also is not expected to raise them.

    Another change from a year ago, cited by investors: Stock markets globally are more synchronized in their strong performance.

    “The prospects this year are better,” said Michael Antonelli, market strategist at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee. “It’s not just the US that’s doing well right now. It’s happening in lots of places around the globe, and that puts investors in a more risk-taking mood.”

    One wild card for markets heading into year-end is the United States’ trade war with China.

    The dispute remains unresolved, but there is optimism about a preliminary US-China trade agreement that could also lift stocks into the new year.

    Investors are still wary of last year’s stock market collapse. The benchmark S&P 500 fell 19.8 percent – barely avoiding a bear market – between Sept. 20 and Dec. 24.

    The index’s 2.7 percent collapse on the eve of the Christmas holiday marked the bottom, and the S&P 500 registered its biggest percentage decline for a fourth quarter since 2008, the height of the financial crisis.

    “It’s in the back of everyone’s mind. We’re all worried if there’s going to be another big selloff in December,” said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    “We don’t think so,” he said. What’s more, with the current strength in markets globally, “you could have a chase into the end of the year.”

    Equity indexes around the world have joined US stock averages in recent weeks in setting new highs. So far this year, Europe’s Stoxx 600 is up about 19 percent and recently hit its highest level in more than four years.

    At this last year, the S&P 500 was up about 1 percent for the year to date, but the European index was down about 9 percent.

    With stock performance at the very end of the year, there is often more at stake than just feeling good around the holidays. – Reuters