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Market Preview: Off to the Races?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Despite the positive action of the past few days, Mom and Pop have gotten plenty bearish on U.S. stocks of late.

First, there was some eye-popping fund flow data on Wednesday. For the week ended April 18, long-term mutual funds investing in domestic equities saw outflows of $8.68 billion, according to data from the Investment Company Institute.

That's equal to the total amount of outflows for such funds over the past three weeks. Interestingly, the main beneficiary of this exodus was funds investing in foreign equities, which saw inflows of $8.73 billion. Bonds and hybrid funds, which invest in both equities and bonds, also did well, attracting inflows of $5.25 billion and $1.18 billion respectively.

Then today came the latest sentiment survey from the American Association of Individual Investors. Those identifying themselves as bullish, meaning they expect the S&P 500 to rise over the next six months, dropped for a fourth straight week, losing 3.5 percentage points to 27.6%.

That's significantly below the long-term average of 39% and a dramatic drop from a near-term peak of 51.6% for the week ended Feb. 9. The recent roller-coaster action in the major U.S. equity indices this month with the U.S. economic data softening, problems in Europe flaring up once again, Apple (AAPL) pulling back from its all-time high, and the end of Operation Twist looming at the end of June seems to have stoked fears that Wall Street could be in for a repeat performance of the past two years when the gains early in the year gave way to cruel summers.

The bear camp swelled to 37.4%, up 3.6 percentage points, and elevated from its long-term average of 30%. Those identifying as neutral totaled 35%, virtually flat with last week's reading and above a long-term average of 31%.

After Thursday's surge, the markets have regained most of the ground lost during this recent stretch of turbulence, righting the ship so to speak. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has regained 13,000 in convincing fashion, the Nasdaq has tacked on nearly 3% in the past two days, and the S&P 500 is sitting just a hair below 1400 after peaking above that level in intraday action for the first time since April 5.

Mark Arbeter, chief technical strategist at S&P Capital IQ, says a convincing break through 1400 could herald the market's ready to move another leg up.

"The S&P 500 is in the process of breaking the bearish trendline off the recent highs, a bullish sign, in our view," he wrote in commentary on Thursday. "However, there is some minor chart resistance that sits up in the 1,390 to 1,400 region, and this may represent a ceiling in the next week or two. However, if this overhead supply gives way, we think it could be off to the races on the upside. We are still looking for a final rally that takes the S&P 500 up to at least the 1,450 zone, and possibly up near 1,500."

Before that happens though, Wall Street will need to digest the late Thursday that Standard & Poor's has lowered its credit rating on Spain to 'BBB+' from 'A.' This can't be a big surprise but it could still rattle sentiment (and raise the country's borrowing costs).
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