NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The S&P flirted nervously with gains before committing to another record in afternoon trade, the fickle sentiment a contrast to the day before.
It was a flipped mirror of Tuesday's session: financial stocks and small caps lagged, while utilities and telcos were favored in risk-off mode. The too-familiar dynamic shows the rally's fragile in its old age: only 5% of S&P 500 stocks are hitting new highs, spelling a lack of breadth and volume at each new peak.
Contributing to the lack of direction was a session devoid of big economic data, blockbuster M&A (Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) being forced to pump up its bid for Allergan (AGN)) or solid earnings. There are logical reasons for stocks to move higher (economic recovery blah, blah) but when valuations get toppy, they want hard data to latch onto. Yes, we had a raft of that yesterday but the recovery is increasingly priced in -- so "surprise me," stocks seemed to whine.
The Dow was in hangover-mode from gains on Tuesday, while the Nasdaq fluctuated on investor indecision on whether tech stocks had been oversold this year: Twitter (TWTR) was jumping more than 8% in afternoon trade after being upgraded to a "buy" by Nomura with Netflix (NFLX)gaining more than a percent and Facebook (FB - Get Report) also higher.
All up, there's logic to the caution in market -- a sideways move makes sense until stronger earnings justify high valuations, or the recovery seems more robust than traders thought. We're still in a bull market though, with shallow dips showing traders view any pullbacks as a buying opportunity rather than any ominous sell-signal.
-- By Jane Searle in New York