NEW YORK – The stock market is hitting new heights, and yes, excitement about President Trump's policies is part of the reason for it. But it's not the only one, analysts say.
Even if Donald Trump had lost the election, many professional investors and analysts say they still would have expected stocks to rise, just perhaps not to the same degree. The Standard & Poor's index has leapt 11.6 percent since Election Day, packing more gains into four months than it's had in five of the last six full years. It dipped a bit Thursday, but it's still close to its record set a day earlier.
Here's a look at some of the factors behind the strong run for stocks:
— The Trump bump.
The first reaction for markets to Trump's win of the White House was confusion. Many investors had been expecting a victory for Hillary Clinton, and markets around the world tumbled on election night as the result became apparent. But they reversed course within hours. The reason: Investors are expecting the Trump White House to push through tax cuts for businesses and to loosen regulations on them.
Lower tax bills for companies should lead to an immediate rise in earnings, and stock prices tend to track profits over the long term. Easier regulations should also help businesses, the thinking goes, particularly big banks and other financials that have been under restrictions imposed following the financial crisis.
Financial stocks have been the best-performing sector by far of the 11 that make up the S&P 500 since the election. Besides the hope for looser regulations, analysts are also excited about the prospect for bigger profits given recent gains in interest rates, which will make lending money more profitable.
— The economy is getting better.
Growth has been frustratingly slow since the end of the Great Recession, but the job market is picking up steam. The unemployment rate in January was 4.8 percent, and economists see the economy as close to full employment. A report on Thursday showed that the fewest number of workers applied for unemployment benefits last week since Richard Nixon was in the White House.
Improvement was underway before Trump entered the White House, but his election has spurred things along. Optimism among small businesses, for example, spiked higher after the election and is now at its highest level since 2004, according to surveys from the National Federation of Independent Business.
Confidence also jumped for regular households following the election, and consumer confidence is at its highest level since the summer of 2001. If that translates into more purchases at stores and elsewhere, it should drive even more economic growth.
Other economies around the world are also improving, raising expectations for profits of big U.S. companies, which do a lot of their business overseas.
— Higher confidence all around.
Confidence has spread even to regular investors.
After years of hiding out in bonds and other safer investments, retail investors began creeping back into stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds following the election. Investors plugged $20.7 billion into U.S. stock funds in November, the biggest month in nearly two years. They've followed that up with more purchases. That buying has helped to bid up stocks even more.
— Corporate profits are getting better.
Big businesses are finally earning bigger profits again.
Earnings per share for companies in the S&P 500 were nearly 6 percent higher last quarter than a year earlier, with nearly all of the companies reporting, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. It's a sharp turnaround from a year ago, when low oil prices and other factors were pulling down profits for S&P 500 companies. Profit growth was particularly strong for technology and financial companies. Microsoft's earnings rose on stronger sales of business software, for example, and investment banks reported a strong quarter for their trading operations.
But just as each of these pillars has helped to lift stocks in recent months, a weakening of any one of them could remove some support. If tax cuts come later than expected, or if they end up being only minor ones, it could mean a drop for stocks.
Critics also worry that that stock prices have run up at a time when they were already looking overpriced relative to their earnings. One popular way to measure whether the stock market is expensive or not is to compare the S&P 500's level against its earnings over the prior 10 years, adjusted for inflation. By that measure, which was popularized by Nobel-winning economist Robert Shiller, the S&P 500 is close to its most expensive level since the dot-com bubble was deflating in 2002.