U.S. Stocks Hit 2008 Highs: Bull Market Gaining Momentum?

The S&P 500 played jump rope with investor expectations on Tuesday, moving beyond its highest close since 2008 only to fall back down because of economic concerns over rising crude oil prices.

Stocks originally rose from approval of Greece's bailout. Then Iran said it stopped selling crude to France and Britain, and the impact of higher energy prices in the U.S. and developing nations heightened investor concerns. Bloomberg reports that as of 4 p.m. on Tuesday, eight stocks fell for every five rising on U.S. exchanges.

The Dow Jones Transportation Average (TRAN), a proxy for economic growth, fell 1.5%, led by United Continental Holdings (down 9.11%), Jetblue Airways (down 8.78%), and Delta Air Lines (down 7.20%) due to concerns over fuel prices.

Bull market?
Since the S&P bottomed out in October, it has climbed 24%, the Dow has risen by 22%, and more than $3 trillion has been restored to the equity markets. Investors who are hesitant of the market are starting to admit it does look attractive.

Adding to investors' incentive, according to Bloomberg, the "S&P 500 is approaching the cheapest level ever compared with bonds as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's zero-percent interest rates drive investors and companies from cash."

Low interest rates mean savers aren't getting a profitable return, so they will seek to put their money elsewhere. Stocks are a natural option. As investors who were originally hesitant to reinvest now reenter the market, we may start to see prices rise.

Business section: Investing ideas
The S&P 500 index has rallied quite nicely since the New Year. Do you think it will continue to do so or will trouble in Europe and the Middle East halt its success? Could we be facing a bull market?

In the case of a bull market, we were curious to see what companies are already rallying but are expected to continue outperforming in the coming months.

For ideas we created a list of the top 200 S&P 500 performers year to date and screened for positive sentiment from institutional buyers and short sellers.

Do you agree with their optimism? (Click here to access free, interactive tools to analyze these ideas.)

1. Micron Technology (NYSE: MU  ) : Engages in the manufacture and marketing of semiconductor devices worldwide. YTD the stock has rallied 30.52%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 110.6M shares, which represents about 11.53% of the company's float of 959.38M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 68.54M to 54.18M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.5% of the company's float of 959.38M shares

2. NetApp (Nasdaq: NTAP  ) : Engages in the design, manufacturing, marketing, and technical support of networked storage solutions. YTD the stock has rallied 18.56%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 17.0M shares, which represents about 4.75% of the company's float of 357.66M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 21.60M to 17.36M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.19% of the company's float of 357.66M shares

3. J. C. Penney Company (NYSE: JCP  ) : Through its subsidiary, J. C. Penney Corporation,, operates department stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. YTD the stock has rallied 18.35%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 18.1M shares, which represents about 12.56% of the company's float of 144.09M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 32.44M to 30.60M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.28% of the company's float of 144.09M shares

4. Lennar (NYSE: LEN  ) : Operates as a home builder and provider of financial services in the United States. YTD the stock has rallied 14.89%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 5.1M shares, which represents about 3.16% of the company's float of 161.63M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 31.82M to 29.41M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.49% of the company's float of 161.63M shares

5. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (NYSE: HOT  ) : Operates as a hotel and leisure company worldwide. YTD the stock has rallied 12.8%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 7.7M shares, which represents about 3.95% of the company's float of 194.80M shares. Shares shorted have decreased from 11.45M to 8.13M over the last month, a decrease which represents about 1.7% of the company's float of 194.80M shares

Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the stocks mentioned above. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.


Kapitall's Rebecca Lipman does not own any of the shares mentioned above. Institutional data sourced from Fidelity, short data sourced from Yahoo! Finance.

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