There’s No Stopping September, at Least Not Yet

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Supposedly the worst month of the year for stocks, September has pretty much stuck its thumb in the collective eye of the naysayers.

Rather than fulfill its historic precedent for weak performance, the month is well on its way to being one of the best in the already turbo-charged 2013.

What makes the trend especially interesting is that the market had more than the calendar conspiring against it. There’s a lengthy menu of unappetizing factors, none of which has been able to make a dent.

Consider just a few factors: Possible U.S. military action in Syria, unrest over both Federal Reserve policy and who will lead the central bank in the post-Ben Bernanke era, and more disturbing news on the jobs front that signal an aggressive recovery is still far off in the future.

Investors, though, have taken the bad-news-is-good-news trade to an extreme, not merely withstanding headwinds but thriving on them.

It seems also that this isn’t merely about anticipating that the Fed will crank up the speed on its metaphorical money-printing machine.

Nick Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx, believes, as expressed in a note Thursday morning, that the market is on the verge of eclipsing a simple dependence on liquidity and quantitative easing.

Anyone with a negative take on stocks at this point must, however, consider the possibility that something else is afoot with the most recent bounce higher. The usual criticism that the Fed’s QE program puts extra money into the stock market holds less sway now that we know the direction of such flows is on the wane. Bond market volatility has died down as well, so that storyline isn’t quite as spooky. Fake Chinese economic data snookering investors into plowing capital into emerging markets? That was a good call – in 2006…

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Instead, Colas thinks the answer lies in something more, well, emotional.

What if investors have learned to process news-related stress better than they used to? I know I risk anthropomorphizing capital markets with that thought, but it certainly seems that scary headlines—or the promise of such—have lost some of their power to create fear and stress. There is no denying that we have a whole host of things that should be creating market stress and very few signs that these actually have an impact.

It’s hard to argue with the point that investors have become more or less numb to the scary headlines.

The market has whiffed on virtually every opportunity this year to take a meaningful pause, falling 5 or 6 or 7 percent under conditions that might otherwise demand something far more significant.

Investor sentiment has improved as well, hitting a two-month high of 45.5 percent bullish in the most recent American Association of Individual Investors poll.

Fed money-printing—irrespective of tapering prospects—has tipped the money flow scales well into the favor of speculators. Wealth disparity, an unavoidable byproduct of such behavior, has peaked to its highest level since the year before the October 1929 stock market crash that signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

Investors then, like investors now, refused to believe there was anything that could derail the stock market train.

Colas concluded:

It isn’t feeling emotional strain that harms you; it is believing that it can harm you which does the damage. If investors have learned that lesson and put markets into a more quiescent state, so be it. And if that is overly optimistic, then they will have ample opportunity to exercise some stress management when the headlines begin to matter again.

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