All the recent media focus has been fixated on whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average index (“The Dow”) will close above the 13,000 level. In the whole scheme of things, this specific value doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it does make for a great topic of conversation at a cocktail party. Today, the Dow is trading at 12,983, a level not achieved in more than three and a half years. Not a bad accomplishment, given the historic financial crisis on our shores and the debacle going on overseas, but I’m still not so convinced a miniscule +0.1% move in the Dow means much. While the Dow and the S&P 500 indexes garner the hearts and minds of journalists and TV reporters, the ugly stepchild index, the NASDAQ, gets about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield (see also No Respect in the Investment World).
While the S&P 500 has NOT even reached the level from one year ago, the technology-heavy NASDAQ index has hit a 11+ year record high. Yes that’s right; the NASDAQ has not reached these levels since December 2000. Sure, the NASDAQ receives a lot of snickers since the technology bubble burst in 2000, when the index peaked at over 5,100 and subsequently plummeted to 1,108 (-78%) over the ensuing 31 months. But now the ugly stepchild index is making an extraordinary comeback into maturity. Since September 2002, near the lows, the NASDAQ has outperformed both the Dow and the S&P 500 indexes by more than a whopping 80%+, excluding dividends.
With the NASDAQ (and NASDAQ 100) hitting a new decade-plus high, are we approaching bubble-esque P/E ratios (price-earnings) of the 2000 era? Not even close. According to Birinyi Associates, the NASDAQ 100 index (NASDAQ:QQQ) forward P/E ratio is priced at a reasonable 14x level – much lower than the 100x+ ratios we experienced right before the NASDAQ crash of 2000 and close to the P/E of the S&P 500.
With these NASDAQ indexes hitting new highs, does this tell us they are going to go significantly higher? No, not necessarily…just ask buyers of the NASDAQ in the late 1990s how that strategy worked then. Trying to time the market is a fruitless cause, and will always remain so. A few people will be able to do it occasionally, but doing so on a sustained basis is extremely difficult (if not impossible). If you don’t believe me, just ask Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman, who in 1996 said the tech boom had created “irrational exuberance.” When he made this infamous statement in 1996, the NASDAQ was trading around 1,300 – I guess Greenspan was only off by about another 3,800 points before the exuberance exhausted.
While a significantly outperforming index may not give you information on future prices, leadership indexes and sectors can direct you to fertile areas of research. Trends can be easy to identify, but the heavy lifting and sweat lies in the research of determining whether the trends are sustainable. With the significant outperformance of the NASDAQ index over the last decade it should be no surprise that technology has been leading the index brigade. The NASDAQ composite data is difficult to come by, but with the Technology sector accounting for 65% of the NASDAQ 100 index weighting, it makes sense that this index and sector should not be ignored. Cloud computing, mobility, e-commerce, alternative energy, and nanotechnology are but just a few of the drivers catapulting technology’s prominence in financial markets. Globalization is here to stay and technology is flattening the world so that countries and their populations can participate in the ever-expanding technology revolution.
Investors can continue to myopically focus on the narrow group of 30 Dow stocks and its arbitrary short-term target of 13,000, however those ignoring the leadership of the ugly stepchild index ((NASDAQ)) should do so at their own peril. Ugliness has a way of turning to beauty when people are not paying attention.
Disclosure: Sidoxia Capital Management (NYSE:SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, including SPY, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in QQQ, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.