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Signs of a stock market top? "Absolutely not," says Barry Ritholtz

Daily Ticker

Major stock market indexes haven't moved much so far this year as we approach the end of the first quarter. The Dow  (^DJI) is down a little more than 1% and the S&P  500 (^GSPC) is up about that same percentage. The S&P hit another record high last week but it's relatively sluggish performance year-to-date has prompted talk that this market has topped out.

Related: Bull market celebrates its 5th birthday: But is the party over?

"Every time you’re in a higher trading range you’re going to make a series of highs and pull back from each of them," says Barry Ritholtz, chairman and chief executive officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management. “But each pullback isn’t the beginning of the end.”

Ritholtz subscribes to Lowry's Research's four factors to help identify market tops:

  • Major market indexes reach a 52-week high while the number of stocks hitting new highs declines
  • The slope of advancing vs. declining stocks declines lower while major indexes reach new highs
  • Small-cap stocks weaken but mid- and large-caps appear healthy
  • 20% or more of stocks are trading 20% below recent highs

Using these metrics, Ritholtz says the current stock market has "absolutely" not topped out. But can stocks continue to rally?

Related: Bond default a "moment of reckoning for the Chinese government"

Commodities like copper, which many consider a leading indicator for the economy, are weakening; copper closed Wednesday near a four-year low. China's economy, the second largest in the world,  is slowing decisively, and reported its first-ever corporate bond default last week.

"It's always problematic trying to attach a narrative to what price action is dong," says Ritholtz. "There are lot of moving parts...But most of the time the market is 3, 6, 12 months ahead of the economy....[still] the market doesn't have a crystal ball."

Related: Markets are headed higher but stick with defensive stocks: Gary Shilling

One contrary indicator Ritholtz watches is "the relentless” calling of market tops and the end of the bull market. "From a contrarian perspective those are  constructive. They tell you lots of people haven't thrown in the towel yet and gotten long. Once everybody gets long who's left to buy?”

What do you think? Have stocks topped out yet? Follow The Daily Ticker on Facebook and Twitter @dailyticker.

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