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It’s a bull! It’s a bear! It’s...a muddle Add to ...

Wondering why stocks can’t seem to find any direction recently? Blame duelling news.

Two top headlines in Bloomberg News illustrate this to-and-fro nature quite well. In one: “Short sales decline 53 per cent as bull market enters fifth year.” In the other: “Investors least bullish in 4 years pull cash: Commodities.”

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Remarkably, both articles appeared on Monday and both have clear implications for investors. The problem: The implications conflict.

The article about short sales says that bearish bets against stocks are at their lowest level since at least 2007. That is, short sales in the S&P 1500 fell to 5.6 per cent of shares available for trading, down from 12 per cent during the financial crisis, according to Bloomberg.

“Bulls say the capitulation by market bears shows the rally remains intact...,’” Bloomberg reported.

However, the article about investors losing their bullishness on commodities suggests another interpretation about the current state of the market. Its premise is that investors pulled $4.23-billion (U.S.) from commodity funds for the week ended Feb. 27 – the biggest outflow for data going back to 2000.

The article quotes Stanley Crouch at New York-based Aegis Capital Corp.: “Commodity markets are worried about China and are sensing possible trouble in the macro picture. Commodities may be out in front of a possible slowdown. The sentiment is changing to cautious.”

Commodity prices themselves have expressed similar caution. Consider that the Thomson Reuters/Jefferies CRB index of commodities has fallen 4.6 per cent since the start of February and is back to where it was more than two years ago. In particular, crude oil has fallen 8 per cent since the start of February, and copper – seen as being particularly reflective of global economic activity – has fallen 7.5 per cent.

Of course, it is not at all unusual to see bullish and bearish news battling it out. Some even see it as a sign of a healthy market.

But what’s interesting about these Bloomberg News articles is that they appeared in the same place at the same time – signalling that bullish and bearish impulses are indeed sharing the same influence right now.

Maybe that’s what you get when the S&P 500 is close to a five-year high and the Dow Jones industrial average is nearing a record high – yet the U.S. economy is just treading water.

 
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