Heading into this week, bullish sentiment on the part of individual investors, measured by the weekly AAII survey, was already depressed with less than a quarter of respondents reporting optimistic sentiment. One week later with the S&P 500 continuing to move lower and a couple of hot, but not exactly unexpected, inflation readings in the interim, bullish sentiment has collapsed another 8.9 percentage points to the lowest level since the week of September 3rd, 1992. That’s right, bullish investor sentiment never got this low even at the depths of the pandemic, during the Global Financial Crisis, or during the Dot Com bubble burst. This week marks one of only 35 weeks since the survey began in 1987 that bullish sentiment was below 20%; the most recent being only back in February when it fell to 19.2%.
As could be expected, the huge drop and the historic low in bullish sentiment was met with a coincident increase in bearish sentiment. Bearish sentiment rose 7 percentage points to 48.4%. While that is an elevated reading, there have been a couple of even more elevated readings as recently as March 17 (49.8%), February 24 (53.7%), and January 27 (52.9%).
Even though bearish sentiment is not at a new high, the still-elevated reading on pessimism paired with the extremely depressed reading on bullishness has resulted in the bull-bear spread to fall much deeper into negative territory. Only two weeks ago, bulls actually outnumbered bears. Today, bears outnumber bulls by 32.6 percentage points. The 37 point drop since that positive reading marks the largest two-week decline in the bull-bear spread since April 2013. It is also the lowest level of the spread since that same period.
While bearish sentiment picked up, not all of those gains came from the decline in bulls. Neutral sentiment was slightly higher rising 1.8 percentage points to 35.7%. That is a few percentage points above the historical average, but it is also well below the multiple highs of the past year. You can read Bespoke’s full analysis of investor sentiment and its contrarian aspects with a two-week trial to Bespoke Premium.