Correlation amongst stocks hits multi-decade high. That's actually a good thing for investors, not bad like many believe.
I've been meaning to post a link to this great WSJ article for a couple of days now, The Herd Instinct Takes Over.
In recent weeks, stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index have shown an increasing tendency to move in the same direction at the same time. Last week, those stocks' tendency to move in the same direction as the index hit an extreme not seen since October 1987, according to research by investment group Birinyi Associates in Westport, Conn.
The market's flock-like behavior is one more reflection of the growing influence of investors using broad-based strategies to buy and sell large blocks of stocks. Instead of picking individual stocks to hold over a period of time, they trade in and out of the market using broad indexes. Often, these investors use exchange-traded funds, which trade as easily as a single stock but contain many different stocks that may belong to the S&P 500, the Nasdaq 100 or another index.
Heavy trading in exchange-traded funds means more stocks are likely to move in the same direction on any given day. Analysts call that correlation, a mathematical term meaning similarity of behavior. Correlation is on the rise, to the frustration of investors who are trying to analyze stocks based on their underlying strengths and weaknesses.
"It is an indexing market and not a market for stocks. On good days everything goes up, and on bad days everything goes down. Everyone talks about baskets or sectors," says Jeffrey Yale Rubin, research director at Birinyi Associates. "It is harder for individual investors and even for mutual-fund managers to distinguish themselves by doing individual stock picks. They might get the product right and the earnings right, but the market goes down and the stock is going to go down as well."
One would think that all of these wild swings in the market which often occur seemingly at random would make it a scary, terrible time to be an investor. Here's the first line from the aforementioned WSJ article:
Stocks are trading in lock-step more than at any time since the 1987 crash, and the trend has some analysts concerned.
Concerned? I love it when the stock of a company that I'm interested in drops through no fault of its own. When that happens, all investors need to do is research opportunities that they find attractive, master their fear, and wait for their targeted stocks to fall to an attractive level. Without all of this volatility, I probably would never had an opportunity to purchase several stocks that I have picked up here in CAPS and in real life.
These swings are particularly great for dividend investors. Just wait until a dividend-paying stock that you're interested in falls irrationally at the whim of Mr. Market and then scoop up shares with a great yield, assuming that you believe its payout is sustainable after doing research on the subject.