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How to Understand the Small-Stock Rally

how-to-understand-the-small-stock-rally

Small stocks so far this year have beaten their large-capitalization brethren by a wider margin than they have in more than two decades, raising questions about what is driving the outperformance and what it means for the overall market ahead.

The year-to-date return for small-caps through the end of February was a remarkable 25 percentage points greater than that of large-caps (as measured by the 20% of stocks with the smallest market caps vs. the comparative quintile of the largest). While it isn’t unexpected for small-cap portfolios to beat large-caps over time—a long-term tendency that Wall Street analysts refer to as the “size effect”—what is unusual is the magnitude of the outperformance. It has averaged just 0.9 percentage point over all two-month periods since 1926, according to data from Dartmouth professor Ken French.

You have to go back to January and February of 2000, at the top of the internet-stock bubble on Wall Street, to find a two-month stretch in which the small-caps beat the large-caps by more. Their margin of outperformance over those two months was 41 percentage points.

Any parallel to the top of the internet-stock bubble is ominous, to be sure. But there are several idiosyncrasies to small-caps’ recent performance that stand in the way of drawing any straightforward analogies to the frenzy in small stocks that heralded the 2000 tech-stock crash.

Indeed, according to several researchers, small-caps’ recent strength may actually be something else in disguise—that is, it may have to do with factors other than just size, such as the battle between growth and value stocks.

What do you think?

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