January's strong stock market start as well as other positive economic news may have given financial advisors a more optimistic outlook on the market's performance for 2012, according to an SEI Quick Poll released Thursday.

An estimated 90 percent of advisors queried early this month expect a positive return of the S&P 500 for 2012, an 18 percent jump over SEI's survey conducted in mid-January. And 50 percent of those advisors are predicting gains of greater than five percent. The February survey was completed by more than 100 advisors, the majority of whom manage more than $50 million in assets.

Steve Onofrio, managing director, SEI Advisor Network, said investors and advisors have been waiting for good economic news to feel more positive about the market's future outlook.

"Whether it's the trend in unemployment numbers, positive corporate profits, or lack of bad news, the investing sentiment has shifted to a more optimistic attitude," Onofrio said. "While we aren't out of the woods yet, it's important for advisors, and investors to recognize we are in the early stages of a changeover and position their portfolios accordingly."

Serving the independent financial advisor market for 16 years, the Oaks, Pa.-based SEI Advisor Network serves more than 5,800 advisors and $30.4 billion in advisors' assets under management.

In addition to positive projections for the S&P 500, over 25 percent of advisors predict that the "pessimism bubble" that has been hovering over the economy will burst in 2012.

According to the survey, nearly one-third of advisors described the market with the phrase "the tide is turning." And over 50 percent of advisors questioned said the adages "bull markets climb walls of worry" and "a rising tide lifts all boats" are apropos phrases for today.

"Unfortunately, investors have become so used to the volatility that they now view any change, positive or negative, as a blip on the radar, rather than a true directional movement," said John A. Scott, CEO of Golden, Colo.-based Cedrus. "Yet, clearly, advisors are more confident in the markets."

-Jim McConville