Big-cap stocks are back in a big way.
Last week brought huge moves in some big industrial stocks that aren't typically associated with fast-money trading. The moves -- including double-digit single-day percentage gains in the likes of
( CUM) -- come as strong overseas growth and a falling dollar have bolstered profits at companies that were saddled with few near-term expectations.
The high-octane action could point to a shift toward big stocks from the
mid-cap names that have done so well over the last five years. It also shows how the market's recent record run has raised the stakes for bulls and bears alike.
Short interest has been rising in a signal that some investors believe stocks are due for a fall. But stocks with heavy short interest have put in some incredible one-day gains -- showing the field is crowded with eager bulls, too.
"Can you say short-covering?" quips Charles Biderman, CEO and publisher of Trim Tabs Investment Research, referring to huge runs in names such as
Much has been made of the
Dow Jones Industrial Average's
6% gain over the last month, which has taken it to record levels above 13,000. Yet the
saw a record level of short interest last month, and 69% of hedge funds reported being bearish at the start of April, according to Greenwich Alternative Investments' sentiment indicators.
And while short interest measures bets against a stock, investors often consider rising short positions a contrarian bullish sign -- a tally of unrealized buy orders.
Those unrealized orders can become realized ones rather quickly, as investors in Amazon learned this week. Amazon surged 27% Wednesday and an added 11% Thursday after posting an earnings blowout Tuesday evening.
For Jim Cramer's take on the company discussed in this article, please click here
for his Wall St. Confidential video.
Like appliance giant Whirlpool and chipmaker TI, Amazon saw short interest rising as earnings day approached. Short interest is the number of shares sold short but not yet repurchased.
A related figure, the short interest ratio, measures the number of short shares divided by average daily volume in the stock. Short interest in Amazon has been up sharply since February, with the short interest ratio reaching a level not seen since the late 1990s. Amazon shares have more than doubled off last summer's lows.
Similarly, Whirlpool gained 17% for the week after reporting earnings that beat expectations, even as sales rose just 2% from a year ago on a comparable basis. Whirlpool's short interest has been spiking since March as investors bet the company's earnings would be dismal, given problems in the U.S. housing market.
One investor who asked to remain anonymous was short both Whirlpool and Amazon heading into the week. Needless to say, it wasn't his favorite week. He covered his short on Whirlpool but held his position in Amazon, saying margins aren't expanding fast enough to justify the stock's recent surge.
But the Amazon-Whirlpool short may be the rarity, as "traders are just loving every single bit of news that comes out," he says. "It's a blow-off top thing."
Take Texas Instruments, whose rally was spurred by the CEO's claim that TI has gotten past a recent inventory glut that drove down prices. Bulging inventories among chipmakers have burdened the sector for over a year, and executives have repeatedly promised that the end is in sight.
That's not to say the fundamentals are totally lacking. Whirlpool's executives highlighted impressive gains in international sales, amid what they called "a tough environment in North America."
A similar pattern played out at industrial titans
The falling dollar, which reached a record low against the euro this week, augments the global growth argument for companies with strong overseas sales. European and Asian economies are growing faster than the U.S. economy, and profits in foreign currencies translate into more dollars.
Big companies, of course, tend to be more apt to capitalize on overseas growth than do the smaller ones that have tended to outperform ever since the collapse of the tech bubble back in 2000 and 2001.
It's also just possible that the ever-elusive retail investor is being pushed back into the market by the Dow's record run.
"Demand and activity at Charles Schwab is picking up," says Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at the brokerage.
She also notes that March was the first month since July 2006 when flows into domestic equities funds were larger than flows into international funds.
But she adds that after February's emerging-markets scare, it is not surprising to see some of those international flows come back home. Biderman adds that since 2004, $300 billion of funds have flowed into international mutual funds.
Whether the domestic inflows are the beginning of a trend or just an anomaly will be a big question for the big-cap stocks in coming weeks.
In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Rappaport doesn't own or short individual stocks. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She appreciates your feedback. Click
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