This article appeared at 10:09 a.m. EDT on RealMoney Sept. 3.
Helene looks at the charts and, over the years I've tracked her, she has been among the most sober market watchers I've known.
Enter her comments:
"Last week, when the American Association of Individual Investors' weekly survey came out, we saw that bulls had reached their highs since Christmas week. One week later, the S&P peaked and had a few percentage points correction.
"This particular survey, in my view, is less like investors and more like a bunch of day traders, the way it jumps around. For this reason I prefer to have some sort of confirmation from another sentiment indicator. Typically, I look to the Investors Intelligence weekly survey since, unlike the AAII poll, the same number of folks are polled each week and they are the same people as well. It also does not jump around like a bunch of day traders.
"In the last 25 years, when we've seen the II poll reach over 60% bulls, we have seen a correction of some sort in the market thereafter. In 2014 that occurred in early January -- to confirm the AAII poll from Christmas week -- and again in July. Both times the market corrected. This week's reading is still 'only' 56% so it's not yet over 60%. The eye opener however is the bears at 13.2%. I have been keeping this data since the 1980s and have a spreadsheet with data back to 1992, and have never seen so few bears.
"There are many who like to use a Bull/Bear ratio. This week, that ratio chimed in at 4.22; Christmas week 2013 it was 4.25. So while we might still see this survey get to over 60% bulls, perhaps before we are intermediate-term overbought later this month, I can now say that the AAII survey has confirmation that there are either too many bulls, too few bears, or a high level of complacency."
Or -- all of the above!
It's hard to say what that all means, of course. But based on my favorite indicator -- something I call the "shorts hiding under their desk" index -- the market appears to be nearing an important inflection point. In the past this has preceded everything from a mere 5% correction to something bigger.
Good luck figuring out what it will be this time, especially given the seemingly illogical nature of this historically volatile Fed-driven market.
Here's what I know -- and it's the one thing that hasn't changed in all of these years. Lots of folks feeling smug and smart (both long and short) always learn this the hard way: Just when you think you've figured it out, the market has a way of humbling you.
At the time of publication, Greenberg had no positions in stocks mentioned but positions can change at any time.