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Market Preview: Just Plain Risky

Updated from 6:44 p.m. ET to include additional information about Tuesday's economic data.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- One odd little factoid about the broad market's rally off the October lows is that earnings expectations for the first quarter were falling steadily throughout.

Now that reporting season is finally here, the opposite scenario is playing out. The results so far are comparatively good with roughly 80% of the companies opening their books coming in ahead of consensus, yet stocks have finally begun to pull back.

Since the start of the calendar second quarter, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost 2.2%, the S&P 500 has given back 2.9%, and the Nasdaq has surrendered 3.9% through Monday's ugly start to the week.

The market's direction usually gets explained away on a day-to-day basis by pointing to a hodgepodge of factors; many times boiling down to bad headlines -- Europe's political instability, China's economy showing signs of cooling off, Wal-Mart's (WMT) Mexico fiasco -- putting the so-called risk-off trade into effect, or else the opposite, good headlines being cited as giving traders the confidence to ramp up risk.

BMO Capital Markets addressed this schizophrenic view of the markets on Monday as the firm established a year-end price target of 1425 for the S&P 500.

"[I]t appears investors are basing investment decisions more on emotion rather than analysis lately," wrote chief investment strategist Brian Belski, who joined BMO from Oppenheimer earlier this month. "For instance, recent market trends have become increasingly bifurcated, alternating between 'risk-on' and 'risk-off' sentiment, which in turn has been fueled by investor fears of either 1) missing out on periods of market strength or 2) preserving capital during periods of market weakness."

Belski is bullish but believes trying to play along with this "risk-on, risk-off" psychology is a losing game. His optimism stems from a belief that the United States is set up to act as a safe haven of sorts over the next few years as Europe struggles and China works through its growing pains.

"[W]e firmly believe US fundamentals are positioned to provide global leadership for the next several years and as a result, those investors who maintain a disciplined and process-oriented approach to fundamental analysis during periods of potential volatility will most likely be the ones who benefit the most," he wrote, advocating "active" stock picking strategies over aping indexes.
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