Comparing Three Major Indexes: DJIA vs. Nasdaq Composite vs. S&P 500
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Comparing Three Major Indexes: DJIA vs. Nasdaq Composite vs. S&P 500

5 Min.

Three major market indexes are the Nasdaq Composite, S&P 500, and Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). The Nasdaq and S&P 500 cover a wider range of sectors and use market capitalization for weighting, while the Dow focuses on 30 blue-chip stocks with weight based on their price. The performance of these indexes varies depending on market conditions. For example, in a bullish market, the S&P 500 may outperform the Dow.

Basics

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite Index are well-known financial measures of daily market performance. These indexes are also foundational for various investment products. The Nasdaq Composite Index comprises over 3,000 stocks, primarily from the technology sector, and is commonly used as a benchmark for technology sector performance.

In contrast, the S&P 500 consists of 500 large-cap stocks from different sectors, providing a broader representation of the overall stock market. Lastly, the Dow Jones Industrial Average includes 30 blue-chip stocks and is often viewed as an indicator of the industrial sector's performance. Each index possesses unique characteristics and offers valuable insights into different market areas.

Key Differences

The Nasdaq Composite, S&P 500, and Dow differ in three key aspects:

  1. Coverage:The Nasdaq and S&P 500 include more companies across various sectors compared to the Dow.
  2. Weighting: Nasdaq and S&P 500 use market capitalizations for weighting, while the Dow relies on individual stock prices.
  3. Constituent Selection: The Dow employs a value-oriented approach, using both quantitative and qualitative factors for stock inclusion, distinguishing it from the other two.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The DJIA is the oldest of the three major indexes, established in 1896 with 12 members. It's a price-weighted, large-cap index, and its value depends on the daily stock prices of its 30 constituents.

While it tracks well-known companies, it lacks representation in utilities and transportation. As of September 2022, it covers equities in nine sectors. The Dow's selection criteria are based on a mix of quantitative and qualitative factors, emphasizing companies with strong reputations and long-term profitability.

Due to its selectivity, the Dow may not always accurately reflect the broader stock market or the U.S. economy. For instance, in rising markets, investors may favor unrepresented growth stocks, benefiting the more comprehensive S&P 500. In 2022, the Dow reached an all-time high of 36,799.65 points.

Nasdaq Composite Index

The Nasdaq Composite Index, established in 1971 with an initial value of 100, encompasses most Nasdaq stock exchange-listed companies, with exchange listing as a key requirement for inclusion. This index, consisting of over 3,000 stocks, uses a capitalization-weighted approach for weight assignments based on market caps.

Mainly mirroring the technology sector, which makes up about 50% of its composition, the Nasdaq Composite's performance closely tracks the exchange. As of September 2021, the top 10 companies, primarily tech giants, represented 46% of the index's weight.

Over the years, the Nasdaq Composite has shown significant growth. During the dotcom bubble, it surged to 5,046.86 on March 9, 2000, followed by a substantial decline, taking 15 years to regain the 5,000 level. In 2021, amid the pandemic-induced stock boom, the index reached an all-time high of 16,057.44 on November 19, 2021.

S&P 500

The S&P 500 is a market cap-weighted index comprising 500 constituents from various industries. It uses the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) introduced in 1999 to categorize companies into 11 sectors and 69 industries.

Compared to the Nasdaq Composite and Dow, the S&P 500 provides a broader market performance view, but this broader representation also makes it more volatile. It tends to see larger gains on up days and steeper losses on down days.

To join the S&P 500, a company must meet specific criteria, including a market cap of at least $14.6 billion, high liquidity, and a public float of at least 10%. As of January 3, 2022, the S&P 500 reached an all-time high of 4,796.56.

Comparing All Three

Index valuations in all three sectors are closely connected, meaning they generally move in sync. However, the degree of gains or losses varies among them. Your choice of index for investment should align with your strategy and goals:

  • If you prefer a secure strategy mirroring established blue-chip stocks, opt for the Dow.
  • Seeking more tech sector exposure? Consider an investment linked to the Nasdaq Composite.
  • For broad market exposure, the S&P 500 is your top choice.

It's worth noting that some stocks are present in all three indexes, particularly those from growing sectors. Depending on the economic climate, these indexes yield different returns while mirroring price trends. For instance, during the 2010 bull market, the DJIA rose 11%, the S&P 500 climbed 12.8%, and the Nasdaq Composite surged by 17%, primarily due to the tech sector's remarkable performance. The S&P 500's higher figure in 2010 was influenced by the presence of more small stocks in the index. However, during downturns, the S&P 500 tends to lose value as investors seek refuge in the safety and dividends of blue-chip Dow stocks.

Conclusion

The S&P 500, Dow, and Nasdaq Composite are distinct indexes that typically move in sync, although their pedigrees, inclusion criteria, and sectoral makeup differ. Depending on economic conditions, one may yield higher returns than the others. In bull markets, the S&P 500 often outperforms due to its diverse sectors and inclusion of small-cap stocks. Conversely, during downturns, investors often seek refuge in the Dow's stable, dividend-yielding stocks.

Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA)
Nasdaq Composite Index
Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500)
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