contrary indicators

Wall Street bulls pull in their horns

October 1, 2010: 9:55 AM ET

Is an even bigger stock rally ahead?

Maybe, if you believe that Wall Street analysts are a good contrary indicator – as one Wall Street analyst most definitely does.

Ah, the wall of worry

David Bianco, the chief U.S. equity strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, notes in a report Friday that sell-side analyst sentiment on stocks has dipped to its lowest level since last November.

Merrill's Sell Side Indicator, which measures how bullish the big investment bank research departments are on stocks, dropped to 58.1% in September. That's a drop of just 0.6 percentage point from August's level, but it's worth noting because it's the "first decisive move of the year," Bianco writes.

While the indicator remains in neutral territory – bullishness would have to fall to 51.8% to signal a clear buying opportunity – Bianco says any sign of queasiness on the part of the permabullish analyst crowd is likely a good sign. He expects the S&P 500 to rise to 1350 by this time next year, from a recent 1141.

Bianco's bullish stylings are noteworthy because they come on the first day of October, a month associated with some historic crashes, and on the heels of the stock market's best September since 1939.

While there is no reason to believe this fall will track that one – Poland isn't being invaded at the moment, for instance, no matter what the rich guys who are getting just murdered by taxes might have you believe – it is nonetheless worth noting that the market followed up that rich September by losing nearly 40% over two-plus years.

What's more, tracking fractional changes in sentiment on the part of analysts whose forecasting record is, let's say, uneven, seems like an exercise in futility -- particularly at a time when near zero interest rates have muddled the calculation of how much anything is worth.

But Bianco insists this crowd is worth tracking, if only to know when to run the other way.

"We have found, when adding a little math, that Wall Street's consensus equity allocation has historically been a reliable contrary Indicator," he writes. "In other words, it has historically been a bullish signal when Wall Street was extremely bearish, and vice versa."

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