10 Important Facts on the Current State of the Market

by: IndexUniverse

How do I love section C of the Wall Street Journal? Let me count the ways.

For years, Section C was good for one thing: kindling. With sheets of stock quotes (all of which you could get online), Section C always went straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin in the Hougan household.

But now, with the stock tables gone, Section C is a treasure trove of interesting data. I spent an hour going through it yesterday and learned a huge amount. There's no grand thesis here, just 10 interesting facts that help shed some light on the market:

Fact 1: The U.S. Stock Market Is ... Uneasy

What's the best-performing index this year? Oil? Gold? China? No ... it's volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index is up 138.7% from year-ago levels, trouncing every other index out there. No wonder we're all feeling touchy.

Fact 2: Transports Are Getting Trounced

I don't buy into the voodoo of technical analysis, but a basic tenet of Dow Theory has always appealed to me: If the trains slow down, the economy will follow. And right now, the trains are getting trounced. The Dow Jones Transportation average is off 8.1% over the past year, and is trading at a 52-week low. Worried?

Fact 3: Utilities Are Raging

I know this from the massive check I write each month to Bangor Hydro, but the WSJ data confirms it: The Dow Jones Utility Average is up 16.2% over the past 12 months, tripling the return of the Industrials. Flight to safety? High energy margins? Who knows.

Fact 4: Europe Is Actually Ugly

With the euro worth more than gold, you might think European markets were doing well. Au contraire, my friends. The Dow Jones STOXX 600 is down 2.1% YTD, while the Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 is up 1.8%. So much for euro power.

Fact 5: Europe Is Also Schizophrenic

More surprisingly, Europe's markets are all over the place. Germany's DAX is up 15.3% YTD and Spain's IBEX 35 is up 8.8%. But Belgium is getting hammered (down 8.6%), Sweden is suffering (down 8.9%) and the Swiss aren't celebrating either (down 4.7%). So much for one Europe.

Fact 6: The China/Japan Dichotomy

The DJ CBN China 600 Index is up 137.4% this year; the NIKKEI is down 13.6%. Does anyone else think that Japan, with its proximity to China's expanding market, might eventually come around?

Fact 7: Why Commodity Futures Investors Are Angry

The gods of contango continue to toy with commodity investors. Here's how: Spot prices for the two most popular commodities, oil and gold, are up 60.8% and 29.7% YTD. Meanwhile, the DJ-AIG Commodity Index is up 10.7%. If you don't know why, you probably shouldn't be investing in commodities.

Fact 8: The Best And The Worst Of The Dow

I thought for sure that Exxon and Alcoa would be the best performers in the Dow this year. Not quite: Try Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) (up 32% YTD) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) (up 35% YTD). The worst performers were easier to pick: Citigroup (NYSE:C) (down 40%) and Home Depot (NYSE:HD) (down 27%).

Fact 9: Small-Cap Growth Is Doing Well

I keep reading about how small caps are doing poorly, and how large caps are finally leading the market. But that's only a partial perspective. The real story is that growth is doing well, and value is getting trounced. For instance, the DJ Small Cap Growth Index is up 5.2% YTD, beating the broader market. But small-cap value is down 6.8%, making it the worst size/style segment. The only segment doing worse in the U.S. market is micro-caps, down 9.3%. To me, that says the risk is coming to the fore.

Fact 10: Dividends Are Getting Walloped

The Dow Jones Select Dividend Index is down 8.1% this year. And we thought dividends protected you when the markets get tough...

Written by Matthew Hougan