NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Bearish investors pointed to signs sentiment is beginning to deteriorate, as markets continue rising in the face of geopolitical risks, mixed economic data and lackluster earnings forecasts.
Many traders pointed to the lagging performance among listed financials -- the largest industry component in the S&P 500 -- as cause for concern. Financial institutions are adjusting to a higher rate backdrop, which may hurt in the short term but should ultimately benefit them as the economy recovers. As a stronger economy boosts bank profits, a lagging banks sector calls into question the sustainability of a market rally. When the market rallied in 2013, for example, the performance of financials outstripped risk-adverse sectors such as utilities. But the returns of both sectors have been on-par the past six months, suggesting a more cautious approach by investors and reallocation away from riskier industries. As per the chart below, financials are lagging the broader market.
Another potential red flag: Fewer stocks are hitting their all-time highs. This suggests last year's rally is running out of steam, with 84 stocks hitting new highs so far this month against 229 for the same period last year. Global markets are also taking a cautious view as the S&P continues its ascent. Key European stocks, as represented by the EuroStoxx 50, have failed to reach their January highs again, rattled by factors such as geopolitical uncertainty in Ukraine. On the flipside, some argue that the outperformance of the S&P over European stocks is justified, given the relatively stronger economic and earnings outlook for the world's largest economy. Still, emerging market debt woes are seen as a lurking risk to equity sentiment everywhere as a wind back of global stimulus this year prompts the ongoing reallocation of funds away from riskier economies.