Micro-cap stocks have suffered a key breakdown relative to mega-cap stocks, suggesting a “risk-off” shift on the part of investors.
One of the themes in the stock market this year has been the under-performance of small-cap stocks – and conversely, the out-performance of large-caps. Today’s Chart Of The Day is a caricature of that theme as it involves a comparison between the very smallest stocks, micro-caps, and the very largest, mega-caps. Not surprisingly, the micro-caps have taken it on the chin this year relative to the mega-caps. In the past few days, however, the deterioration in micro-caps has accelerated, reaching a dubious milestone.
As measured by the ratio between the iShares Russell Micro-Cap ETF (IWC) and the Rydex Russell Top 50 ETF (XLG), micro-caps are at a 3-year low and have broken their uptrend that has been in place since 2009.
“So what?” you may say. “Something always has to be leading and something else has to be lagging” That is true. However, it is more bullish for the broad stock market when the smaller, more speculative issues are leading the way. When that is the case, it can be a sign of relative comfort and willingness to take on risk on the part of investors. Money will flow into stocks more readily under those circumstances.
However, when the micro-caps are lagging and the largest, seemingly most secure stocks are leading the way, it can be a sign of apprehension by investors to take risk. Money is less likely to find its way into the stock market under those “risk-off” circumstances.
Sure, we all know that these divergences can persist for some time. 2015 is a testament to that. Eventually, though, the small-cap weakness tends to leak into the broader market, including the large caps. The concern at this point is that the divergence has already persisted for some time. In fact, the micro-cap:mega-cap ratio topped back in March of 2014. So we are approaching 2 years of lagging small caps. At this point, the market segments that have thus far been able to avoid similar weakness are likely on borrowed time.
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Read more here from Dana Lyons, JLFMI and My401kPro.