The stock market enjoyed a remarkably quiet month of August as the S&P 500 finished flat and did not see a single day in which it moved more than 1%. In fact, on July 12th the S&P 500 was down 1.5% and has not seen a greater than 1% move since then. What a contrast to last August! This relative calm is reflected in VIX, the market fear gauge, though VIX only measures expected volatility 30 days out.
Longer term measures of volatility are higher than normal suggesting possible future volatility. In an election year, especially an election year with two unpopular major party nominees, this perhaps should be expected, though there are other explanations as well.
Freshly carved out of the Financial sector, REITs are the newest Sector in the S&P 500. Sectors – like Financials, Information Technology and Consumer Staples – are the broadest classification of stocks with industry groups and sub-industries further demarcation points. The weighting of financial stocks in the S&P 500 fell by a fifth and REITs now comprise 3.1% of the index giving them a higher weight than materials, telecoms and utilities.
REITs were previously grouped with financials because they shared some qualities with financial stocks. Both Financials and REITs, for instance, have been more volatile than the S&P 500 as a whole with standard deviation of 7% compared to the index’s standard deviation of 4%. But while mortgage REITs will continue to be classified as financial companies, the pairing with equity REITs made less sense as the correlation between eREITs and financial companies is less than the correlation between financials and the rest of the S&P 500.
Following the tumultuous aftermath of the Brexit vote in June investors were pleased to see the market deliver a strong month in July. The S&P 500 rose 3.7% and the Russell 2000 6%, verifying the trend we noticed in mid-July, as stocks largely outperformed second quarter earnings estimates. The S&P 500 is now up 7.7% year-to-date and the Russell 2000 8.3%.
Most widely-used stock indices you see, including the S&P 500, are weighted by market capitalization rather than weighted equally, giving the larger stocks in the index more sway over the index’s movement. The 10 largest stocks by capitalization in the S&P 500, for instance, have the same weighting as 89 equally weighted stocks.
Because market-cap weighted indexes are heavily biased by the largest constituents, these indexes typically publish a less followed but insightful Equal Weight Index (EWI) that weighs each stock equally across the index. Apple makes up 2.9% of the S&P 500 Index but just 0.2% in the S&P 500 EWI.
By removing the extra influence large-caps have in the standard index, we are able to pick up on trends by comparing the performance of both the market-cap and the EWI version to see how smaller-cap constituents are performing relative to their larger peers.
The recent returns of the S&P 500 indices show signs of size movement. The large-cap S&P 500 is no longer outperforming the small-cap S&P 600 as it did in the prior 1-year period. Mid-caps, as seen by the S&P 400, are now returning more than both small and large caps. And, interestingly, within each index, the EWI version outperformed the cap-weighted index indicating, at least in 2016, small-caps have taken the momentum from large-cap stocks.