Evan Frazier, CFA, CAIA
Senior Research Analyst
The S&P 500 index — up 9.6% on a year-to-date basis through May — recently entered into a technical bull market, mostly due to a resurgence of growth-oriented areas of the U.S. equity space like Information Technology and Communication Services. At the same time, data related to futures contracts on the index could indicate extremely bearish sentiment on the part of hedge funds and speculators. As of the end of last month, these investors and traders were net short more than 400,000 E-mini S&P 500 futures contracts — the largest such position since Bloomberg started tracking the metric in the early 2000s.
There are several potential explanations for this phenomenon. First, investors may believe the recent run of the S&P 500 is not reflective of the current economic climate and overly dependent on a small basket of securities. To that point, the year-to-date return of the benchmark would actually be negative through the end of May excluding just seven high-performing index constituents (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and Tesla). This type of sentiment could lead the index to retract meaningfully should one of these companies stumble. However, this same group of investors has maintained net long positions on similar NASDAQ futures contracts in recent time, which does not support the notion that investors are inordinately bearish on these stocks. Dynamics within S&P 500 futures markets could also be a reflection of hedge funds and other investors having a significant number of high-conviction long positions with fewer alpha short ideas, which could necessitate hedging to lower net exposures and would actually be a bullish indicator. Whatever the reason for this positioning, it is important for investors to remember that no one variable is sufficient when it comes to explaining overall market machinations. Marquette will continue to monitor equity and futures markets and advise clients accordingly based on our findings.
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