A $1 Trillion Buying Spree Lets S&P 500 Brush Off Bear Warnings

Market watchers have heard the warnings over and over. Stocks are expensive. Growth is set to slow. Higher taxes and hawkish monetary policy loom as threats. Yet there’s a mighty force pushing back against all the bearish voices: buyers who keep on buying.

Demand is up across the board, from die-hard day traders piling into meme stocks, to exchange-traded funds and even once-cautious hedge funds now raising leverage to boost exposure. With dip buyers seemingly ready to jump in at every pullback, the S&P 500 Index has gone seven months without a 5% drawdown -- the longest stretch of buoyancy since February 2018.

Even a hawkish surprise from Federal Reserve policy makers -- they now expect to raise interest rates twice by the end of 2023, sooner than previously forecast -- didn’t seriously damage buyer sentiment on Wednesday, as the S&P 500 rebounded from a 1% drop to close down just 0.5%.

How long this robust demand can last is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, the hunger is driving up prices paid to those willing to part with equities at the moment, like pensions and mutual-fund investors.

All told, equity purchases by a group including households, hedge funds and ETFs exceeded sales by $361 billion in the first quarter, the most since at least the 1950s, Fed flow of funds data compiled by Reynolds Strategy LLC show. That extended five consecutive quarters of inflows, during which purchases topped $1 trillion, an amount that’s five times the total accumulated during the previous decade.

Corporate America, which had retrenched during the pandemic, is now also adding to demand, with share repurchases eclipsing offerings for a second quarter in a row.

Relentless stock buying has resulted in a market resilience that has defied all skeptics. Halfway into 2021, the S&P 500 has posted 29 fresh highs, on course for the third-best year for record closings, according to Bespoke Investment Group.