NEW YORK — There's something unusual going on in the stock market, if you haven't noticed, and it could spell opportunity or risk for your portfolio.
The market stages some heroic rallies from time to time, but it's basically been down. Now here's the odd thing: The so-called value stocks are leading the decline, while growth stocks are doing better.
That's the exact opposite of what happens in most declining markets.
Growth stocks usually are whacked harder because their prices had been bid higher in anticipation of the good times rolling on.
Value stocks, already depressed and out of favor, have less room to fall. Indeed, the long-term performance superiority of value over growth stems largely from value doing better in down markets.
In this current decline, growth and value are both down, but growth is down less.
Among small stocks, however, the relationships are normal.
The same pattern is evident in the Russell indexes.
Contrast these movements with those of the bear market earlier this decade. From Dec. 31, 1999 through Oct. 9, 2002— what is it about that month and day that they denote both a market high and a low five years apart? — the DJ Wilshire Growth Index plummeted 60.64 percent while its value counterpart sank 22.3 percent.
Value prevailed in both the large- and small-stock segments, with small value turning in a modest positive performance in that period.
The reason value is lagging this time around isn't hard to find. The current market swoon is led by the financials industry.
The DJ Wilshire Financials Index has dropped 28.43 percent since last fall, but it slipped just 8.88 percent from the end of 1999 to the autumn of 2002.
Technology and telecommunications were hardest hit in the earlier bear market (down 78.95 percent and 76.44 percent respectively) and have dropped 20.42 percent and 25.24 percent respectively this time around — although that's enough to rank them second and third among industry laggards.
When the market starts climbing again, don't assume that the most-clobbered style will rebound the fastest.
About 75 percent of DJ Wilshire Financials Index's components are value stocks. The opposite is true of technology, which is roughly 87 percent growth. Those are the two industries most heavily skewed one way or the other. Other value biggies are telecommunications (84 percent), utilities (78 percent) and oil and gas (55 percent). Following technology in the growth tilt are consumer services (85 percent) and health care (about 55 percent).
Put another way, 27.88 percent of the DJ Wilshire Value Index was financials as of early March. That's by far the biggest industry in the value index, followed by oil and gas (14.47 percent) and Industrials (14.19 percent percent). The growth index's biggest industries are technology (22.83 percent) and consumer services (15.71%).
The moral to this story is threefold:
First, never rely completely on past patterns prevailing in the present or future. Lots of busy, distracted and lazy investors will do just that, which creates opportunity for those who take the time to observe market trends carefully.
Second, develop a keen appreciation of the interconnected nature of the market. Large and small, growth and value, industry-group and sector — they all are entwined; anything affecting one will affect the others. Banks took it on the chin in the subprime mess, and look what that's done to large-cap value as a strategy.
Of course, you could skip this advice and simply buy and hold a broad stock-index fund. Not that I think you will, but it's an option.
Third, when the market starts climbing again, don't assume the most-clobbered style will rebound the fastest. In the year following the market bottom on Oct. 9, 2002, the DJ Wilshire Growth Index did soar a stunning 39.87 percent. But that was only slightly better than the 38.61 percent gain for the DJ Wilshire Value Index. And value outperformed growth over the ensuing three years.
When the recovery arrives — or at any time, for that matter — repeat the first step as needed.
John Prestbo is editor and executive director of Dow Jones Indexes, a unit of Dow Jones & Co., Inc., publisher of MarketWatch. Radhika Uppalapati contributed research to this report.