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The stock market has had a great three-week run. The media covered the fact that the first quarter was the best since 1998. While that is true, the major indices were all negative on the year exactly three weeks ago today. The reality is that it has been a pretty good short-term run for stocks.
Since mid-March, what events have taken place to placate investor concerns? Oil has risen as a third front opened when the U.S. military started bombing Libya. While that mission is supposedly ending, time will tell how uninvolved our troops and missiles really are.
The Japanese nuclear crisis is not yet under control. If anything, we are learning that they are dumping vast amounts of radioactive water into the ocean, and radiation contamination is spreading further from the crippled reactor. They claim to have fixed the leak, but that was only yesterday. So that can't be the driving force behind the market's recent run.Rioting and deaths are occurring on a more widespread basis in the last few weeks in the countries of Syria, Bahrain, and Ivory Coast. The market's rise cannot be attributed to any newfound peace dividend. The European debt crisis seems to be expanding. Portugal was downgraded again on Tuesday. Greece, post-bailout, was downgraded well into junk status to "BB-" just last week. Ireland, a few short months removed from accepting bailout funds, is not only in need of more money already, they would like to renegotiate the payback terms to a more manageable rate. In other words, they can't afford the current provisions of their "loan." None of this is positive news. Here at home, corporations appear to be flush with cash and merger mania is in full swing. The Fed's quantitative easing programs have helped the "rich get richer," so to speak, as entities with cash can buy what they want at discounted prices. Whether it is individuals with money stimulating retail or corporate America buying undervalued companies, money is moving. One look at the SPDR S&P Retail Fund (XRT) and it becomes apparent that consumers are spending. XRT holds approximately 94 U.S. publicly traded common stocks that deal in retail. Everything from Amazon (AMZN)to Wal-Mart (WMT), including leaders like Priceline (PCLN) and Netflix (NFLX), are in this ETF. No stock has a weighting over 1.5%, so it really is the broad participation of rising stocks that is driving XRT higher, up 7.6% year to date.