This Is More Than a Squeeze

 | Jan 04, 2013 | 6:28 PM EST
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Five-year highs for the S&P 500? What the heck? Must be all short-covering?

No, I don't think so. I think there's simply a level of Washington ennui that's pervading the market.

The people who haven't left the building are people who increasingly, I believe, won't be shaken out by the next Washington crisis.

That doesn't mean that they won't get spooked by bad earnings if we have them.

But think of it like this: If you sold on the debt downgrade last year, if you sold on the election jitters, and if you sold on the fiscal cliff, and if you sold on the dividend tax increase and if you sold on the utterances of politicians, you do look pretty stupid at five-year highs, don't you?

So much money was deferred from the market. So many people decided that dividends would cease to matter that much. So many hedge funds decided that the earnings had to be horrible that the spook factor was as high as I can recall.

Now, we know from Ulta Salon (ULTA), which guided "too in-line" and from lululemon athletica (LULU), which got downgraded, from Mellanox Technologies (MLNX), which had hideous earnings, and from Family Dollar (FDO), which had terrible guidance, that you aren't safe from disappointing individual company reports..

But that's different from being in an unsafe market. Those stocks are all pretty highly valued and didn't have dividend protection and are ahead, not behind, the market.

I think the reaction of the OK retailers to the OK news -- witness the positive reaction to allegedly disappointing Target (TGT) numbers -- is indicative that there was a short base in that group.

In general, though, the multiples aren't stretched for the big caps, international is getting better, and the individual has figured out how much to put into his or her 401(k) and retirement plans, now that we know the rules. Those who need yield went back in. Those who hadn't sold yet were given no new reason to sell.

Perhaps, more important, it isn't straight up. We were able to make some buys for Action Alerts PLUS today of stocks that were down that later climbed. They let you in -- another sign that it isn't short-covering.

Buying stocks, alas, on Washington worries talked about endlessly in the media hasn't been a sucker's game. Selling them has.

Maybe people are beginning to realize that that's the case. It won't be until huge amounts of money come back in the stock market and people aren't even talking about Washington that the jig might be up.

Until then, try to avoid the high-multiple players that ran big in 2012. Try to isolate the stocks at 12x to 15x earnings that could have good international prospects. Keep buying beaten-down master limited partnerships. And get ready for a rocky earnings season that will shake out some newcomers but I think, by and large, will do some damage to the high-multiple players but create some terrific buying opportunities for the others. 

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