Stocktake: Nervous investors don’t trust this rally

Almost half surveyed in latest AAII poll were bearish

The growing herd of day traders speculating in high-risk stocks might give the impression of irrational exuberance in financial markets. In fact, far from being exuberant about stocks' prospects, ordinary investors are miserable. Only 20 per cent describe themselves as bullish in the latest American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) poll – the lowest number in more than four years and ranking among the 40 lowest in the survey's history. Almost half (48 per cent) are bearish, resulting in a vast bull:bear spread. Indeed, such pessimism is usually found after markets have tanked; it's rare to find investors so glum after a near 50 per cent rally. Of course, it's easy to see why the mood is bleak. US GDP sank a staggering 32.9 per cent in the second quarter, so investors could be forgiven for thinking the rally is bonkers. However, a report by European fund giant Amundi last week pointed out that while American Airlines, Macy's and hotel group Marriott collectively employed 430,000 people at the end of 2019, they had a combined market capitalisation of about $38 billion, or less than 0.14 per cent of the S&P 500.

In contrast, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook collectively had almost the same number of employees, but their combined market cap of more than $4.5 trillion accounts for about 17 per cent of the S&P 500. The sectors most affected by the economic chaos carry little weight in the S&P 500. More than ever before, the US stock market is not the economy.