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Big questions for markets for 2015

Wall Street was generally calmer in 2014 than in previous years, but that doesn’t mean the stock market was devoid of drama.

Big selloffs in biotechnology and social media stocks had strategists predicting doom in the spring, and the plunge in oil prices has clouded the outlook for the coming year. It was a year when Cynk Technology, a development-stage company with no revenue, was briefly worth $6 billion, and when a long-forgotten closed-end fund focused on Cuba – the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund – saw more trading in one day in December than it had in six years.

With that in mind, Reuters asked Wall Street strategists a few questions on odd things to watch for in 2015.

THE BIG APPLE

Shares of Apple Inc, the most valuable publicly traded U.S. company, will finish higher for a sixth straight year. With a current market value of about $663 billion, if one were to pick a company that would be the first to hit $1 trillion in value, Apple’s a safe choice – but not next year, investors said. The iWatch, its latest product, may not be enough to propel the stock further.

“I don’t really see this company as having another blockbuster category of products. The watch doesn’t feel like a great idea. I’m kind of out of the Apple mystique thing,” said Kim Forrest, vice president and senior analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

NASDAQ 5000NAS

With its gains on Friday, the Nasdaq Composite Index sits just about 200 points shy of the vaunted 5,000 level, which it has not seen in nearly 15 years – and its all-time intraday high of 5,132.52 reached on March 10, 2000, isn’t far off.

“I think Nasdaq will test and probably achieve higher highs than we did in 2000 because I think we’re in a secular bull market that has another eight to 10 years left to run,” said Jeffrey Saut, managing director at Raymond James & Associates.

For the Nasdaq to hit 5,000, it would take a gain of 4 percent. And to get to that all-time high, it would take about a 7 percent increase. Whether that’s warranted is something over which investors disagree.

“What we need now is for fundamentals like revenue and earnings to catch up with current valuations,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.

MORE TRADING EVENTS EXPECTED

After a series of market-crippling operational glitches in recent years, found everywhere from Nasdaq to options markets, investors are bracing for more such events.

This year, a gold-mining exchange-traded fund, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF, dove 10 percent in the waning seconds of trading one day in early December. Earlier in the year, high-frequency trading firm Virtu Financial canceled an initial public offering after the release of Michael Lewis’ book “Flash Boys” brought negative publicity to computerized trading.

None of these incidents were as damaging as the May 2010 “flash crash.” The most notable in 2014 came out of the bond market in mid-October, when 10-year Treasuries yields crashed more than 0.3 percentage point without warning.

“There definitely will be an event. At least one, probably more,” said Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey. “Investors want a lower cost. In return for the lower costs they think they’re getting there are also risks, and the risks usually involve technology. Lots of times they leave black eyes.”

“Whenever you have all these systems talking to each other problems happen. They’re tested robustly but not for every boundary condition,” said Forrest of Fort Pitt Capital.

BIOTECH TROUBLE?

Investors worry that biotech stocks will have a tougher start to the year after pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts dealt a blow to Gilead Sciences Inc on Dec. 22 when it dropped coverage of Gilead’s hepatitis C treatment.

Biotechs were all over the place in 2014. They were at the forefront of the selloff in momentum favorites in the spring, and hit another rough patch in December on the Gilead news.

“I think biotech is pretty expensive as an asset class,” said Raymond James’ Saut. “But over the next three to five years the big breakthroughs are going to come from the biotech complex. I don’t know about a pullback but I think there are better places to be.” (Reuters)

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