With the S&P Crossing 1200, Gains in ’05 Could Be Limited

The S&P 500 closed today at 1203, its highest level since the third quarter of 2001. The market’s strong rally in the last five weeks clearly has boosted morale on Wall Street, but can we expect this upward move to continue?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the market has a lot more room to run. Earnings are expected to rise about 8 percent in 2005, and the S&P 500 trades at 17.2 times the current $70 earnings estimate for that index, hardly cheap.

If we take an aggressive profit growth forecast of +10 percent for next year, and put a fairly rich 18x multiple on that, we get a 1300 target on the S&P, about 8 percent higher than where the market stands today. Much like 2004, next year should prove to be another solid year for stock-pickers, but an uneventful year for index fund owners.

There are still several issues that could derail continued economic growth in the coming months; sustained $40 per barrel oil, Middle East trouble during the January elections in Iraq, as well as the fear of rising inflation and/or interest rates. All in all, it makes sense to be cautiously optimistic as investors structure their portfolios for the coming year.