Figuring Out Who's Right In the Bull vs. Bear Battle

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The argument between bulls and bears on whether the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average are justifiably soaring or a catastrophe on legs continues to rage.

Some believe they can clearly prove why the stunning performance of U.S. equities is no phenomenon. Others are equally adamant that a retracement is just around the corner. The only clear point, it seems, is that whoever is correct in this argument will be in good stead for the long run.

That activity on the U.S. markets is defying the odds is beyond debate. In a much-publicized milestone, the Dow Jones beat the 17000 mark last week, the crest of a peak never before seen. The S&P tells a similar story, getting closer than ever to touching 2000 after three successive months of impressive gains.

After the anticipated sell-off, those gains appear to have largely stuck: the Dow Jones is just under 17,000 at time of writing, and the S&P is hovering around the 1966 mark. Underpinning this is a market showing less activity than during the spikes of the previous two decades, with no tech or mortgage bubble to point to as the chief driver of growth. So what's causing the growth?

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One reason for the rise in U.S. investment has been the increasing signs of an improving U.S. economy (and alleviation of negative outside influences), combined with a clear refusal from the Federal Reserve to end tapering. Over here in the UK, the FTSE saw a fairly heavy drop as Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, signaled a probable increase in interest rates. Remarkably, Thursday's non-farm payrolls release boosted both indices and the dollar - the U.S. bullish market appears to be spreading, with different traders taking different positives from each announcement.

Bearish traders will want more concrete proof that the markets are on solid ground, and a probable reason for market performance does not provide that. What may, however, is a greater understanding of the stocks propelling this rise.

The perennial favorite, Apple (AAPL), has seemingly got over a slow (by Apple's standards, at least) 2013 to get close to the all-time high reached in 2012. Another strong performer is BlackBerry (BBRY), which in June and July popped back up to healthier levels though still nothing on the stellar performance of yesteryear.

Over on the Dow Jones, Intel's (INTC) continuing health mirrors its index somewhat, while major players Nike (NKE) and Microsoft (MSFT) have both been strong in recent months. Away from the bigger stocks, though, the stunning growth of Tesla (TSLA) has been curbed for a while now, and Amazon (AMZN) has not had a good year so far to date.

Microsoft and Intel leading the rise of the Dow Jones. All data based on IG's spread betting platform

While the Russell 2000 is currently trading at a high, it's off the back of a significant dip for the past few months. It is hard to tell whether the Russell is about to break higher although those who pointed to its blip earlier in the year as a sign that a correction was nigh have not yet been proved right.

Those urging caution and taking rear-guard action against a market that they see as unsustainable are probably sensible: Recent history and a lack of clear understanding over what's driving this growth make wariness a judicious way forward.

But what is going to topple the markets? Worries over China's economy appear to be unfounded for (now at least), disruption in both Ukraine and Iraq has so far only fuelled investment in U.S. markets further, and Janet Yellen is still showing no sign of tapering. A correction out of nowhere seems unlikely, and several times already a so-called "trigger" has failed to have any effect.

Whether we hit 2000, break higher, or correct at 1999, the stunning ascent of U.S. markets has been a constant revelation in a time of unusual tedium for global investors. So whether bullish or bearish on the future, perhaps both sides can celebrate that.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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