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Market Preview: Up for Debate

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The big-cap stocks -- Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) etc. -- may get all the attention but it doesn't hurt to take note of the prevailing sentiment about small- and mid-cap names as well.

After all, the Russell 2000 is up more than 13% so far in 2012, outpacing Dow Jones Industrial Average's 10%-plus gain.

Credit Suisse discussed the results of its most recent survey of investors who concentrate on what's going on in smaller side of stocks in commentary on Wednesday, saying the group is "generally constructive, with some signs of increased risk tolerance, as well as an inclination for sector rotation and a desire for new ideas."

The firm's poll of 100 mostly small-cap portfolio managers took place on Sept. 24-28, and it found 75% are bullish about the next 6-to-12 months, a level of optimism that far exceeds the optimism of retail investors, who came up 36.1% bullish in last week's sentiment survey from the American Association of Individual Investors, which asks its members what direction they expect stocks to head in over the next six months.

There was a small comedown when the timeframe was shrunk to the next three months with only 56% of those polled by Credit Suisse saying they're bullish about the final calendar quarter of the year. The expected weakness in corporate earnings contributed to the relative glumness.

"The optimism among investors does not detract from our own constructive stance, as the last 2 major R2000 peaks have been preceded by declines in short term bullishness," the firm said. "60% say small/mid cap valuations are fair while just 11% say they are pricey. Hopes aren't high for reporting season."

On a sector basis, technology, energy and housing got the most love, while the financials received a neutral review and materials remained "deeply out of favor," according to Credit Suisse, which also flagged a decline in bullishness about health care as worrisome.

When it comes to broad issues, the majority of the small-cap set -- 69% -- expect the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing efforts to help stocks but opinion was more split on how much of a boost the economy will see with 56% seeing no impact at all from the central bank's bond buying binge.

As for the big political questions that will move to the forefront of national concerns later tonight when the first presidential debate of the 2012 race for the White House takes place, nearly three out of every four respondents are expecting four more years from the incumbent.

"74% say an Obama win is likely, a big jump from 2Q12; but just 37% expect a related stock market pullback (31% say mild) vs. 56% in 2Q12," Credit Suisse said. "65% expect the dividend/capital gains tax cuts to expire, but 62% say any pullback would be mild. 66% are a little worried about the fiscal cliff."

Moving over to the big debate, Sterne Agee Chief Market Strategist Sharon Stark is hoping the candidates will be prodded to elaborate on their respective fiscal policies. In emailed commentary on Tuesday, she alluded to the disastrous stand-off over the debt ceiling last year with respect to the need for decisive action by legislators to avoid the fiscal cliff, saying "The devil is always in the details, but at least decisions will be made---we hope."

President Barack Obama's lead in the polls would seem to put the pressure squarely on Mitt Romney tonight, though the Republican candidate's campaign has stabilized of late and even made up some ground.

If perception truly is reality, expect this to be the biggest factor in Thursday's trading as it will be the first chance for investors to see the candidates face off directly, and get a sense of whether Romney can start to build some real momentum. Wall Street's reaction will provide the first solid clues to which candidate the so-called smart money thinks will be best for the stock market.

TheStreet plans to live-blog the debate, starting at 8:30 p.m. EDT.
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