Another thousand Dow points higher, and investors yawn

Market milestones falling like dominoes, with 51 records broken so far this year

Oct 19, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

By John Waggoner

Not so long ago, phones would light up in an adviser's office when the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke through a 1,000-point barrier as customers clamored to invest. Today?

"Crickets chirping," said Steve Janachowski, CEO of Brouwer & Janachowski. "People seem complacent, and if anything, wondering if the market's overvalued and ready for a fall."

Of course, a 1,000-point gain in the Dow isn't what it used to be. It took the blue-chip index 76 years to break 1,000 points in 1972. It didn't break 2,000 until 1987, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Milestone fatigue could be setting in. The Dow blasted through 23,000 Wednesday with a 160.16-point gain, closing at 23,157.60. It broke through 22,000 in August, 21,000 in March and 20,000 in January. The Dow has set 51 new record highs this year.

Each 1,000-point gain is, of course, a smaller percentage gain from the previous one. When the Dow crossed 15,000 in May 2013, it had gained 7.54% from its first close above 14,000 in 2007.

MISSING OUT

And the stock market has come a long way from its bear-market low of 6,547.05. "People have already missed out, and, by and large, they know it," said David Haraway, principal at Substantial Financial, Inc.

(More: Searing lessons from the crash of 1987)

"We really haven't had folks clamoring to get in," said Mark Bass, financial planner with Pennington, Bass & Associates. "If anything, our folks are more interested in adding to asset classes that are negatively correlated or non-correlated with stocks, such as bonds, managed futures, maybe real estate."

Mutual fund flows seem to prove investors' wariness. Investors have yanked an estimated $50 billion from domestic stock funds and ETFs this year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the funds' trade group. Bond funds and ETFs have welcomed $320.7 billion in net new cash during the same period.

EQUITY OUTFLOWS

"The mutual fund equity outflows seem to confirm that there's more fear or risk-aversion than greed," Mr. Janachowski said. "I don't think investors in general buy into this up market. There is a general sense — maybe mostly because of the discord in Washington — that the upturn has been artificially market-driven and not based on fundamentals."

Not everyone is watching paint dry instead of the market.

"We have been getting a lot of new inquiries in the past couple of months and I think it is due to the strong performance in the market," said Alexander Rupert, associate portfolio manager at Laurel Advisors. "Either people are hearing the news about how strong the markets have been or people are looking at their statements, seeing more gains than they are used to and wondering if they are being smart when it comes to their finances."

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