When Is Overbought Bullish?

What more can we say about the amazing rebound of the stock market since December 24? For the first time since 1997, the S&P 500 Index is up more than 10% for the year through this point in February. Of course, it was the worst December for stocks since the Great Depression—making a larger bounce possible—but the rebound over the past two months has been historic.

That begs the question: What does it mean when stocks are overbought on many short-term levels? “Yes, stocks are quite extended near -term,” explained LPL Senior Market Strategist Ryan Detrick, “but historically, extended markets have tended to deliver continued outperformance over the next several months.”

We can see this by looking at the number of stocks in the S&P 500 that are above their 50-day moving average and the subsequent performance of the index. That number recently cleared 90%, which was one of the highest readings ever. And after 90% of stocks in the S&P 500 go above their 50-day moving average, their 1-, 3-, and 6-month returns actually have shown continued strength. In fact, as the LPL Chart of the Day shows, three months after hitting that 90% mark, the S&P 500 has been higher 12 of the previous 13 times going back to 1990.

Overbought Can be a Good Thing

This tells us the easy part of the recent rally is over, and we do see reasons to expect some type of consolidation or well-deserved pullback at some point, but we still think the stage is potentially set for new highs later this year.

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