The Different Stock Market Sectors – Are You Taking Advantage?

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When we speak of the stock market we describe it with the term “The Stock Market”, as if it’s a single, unified market.

The reality is nothing close.

The stock market is really a group of sub-markets, many of them very different from the rest.  These sub-markets are commonly described as “sectors” and there are quite literally dozens of them.

Since sectors perform differently in various market conditions, it’s worth using them to your advantage in building your portfolio.

Common Market Sectors


As I said there are dozens of sectors—maybe even hundreds.  But here are some of the more common ones.

Growth

These are stocks that generally pay little or no dividends, preferring to retain income to invest in growth. They’re usually newer companies in fast growing industries or markets, and perform very well in bull markets.

Dividend

These are generally more mature companies that pay above average dividends and do so consistently. They usually also have a consistent history of increasing their dividends.

Value

These are the stocks of otherwise strong companies whose stock is at depressed levels due to poor recent performance, industry factors or just plain bad luck.  The idea is to buy them while they’re depressed and ride them up when they turn.

Small-, Medium- and Marge-Cap

This is three different sectors determined by the size of the companies, or more particularly their market capitalization (market value of outstanding stock).

The exact definition of small, medium and large is somewhat subjective.  Small might mean stocks with a market cap of less than $1 billion, medium might mean $1 billion to $10 billion, and large might be anything larger.  There’s some indication that the size of a company’s market capitalization affects it’s performance.  The market size can even be broken out into categories like micro, etc… but these are the basic three.

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Utilities

Companies engaged in the production and distribution of electricity, water and natural gas tend to have relatively stable performance.  They provide necessary services and usually pay high dividends.

Energy

picking stocks by stock market sector

Using stock market sectors can help you diversify your stock portfolio.

These are companies involved in the production and distribution of energy, such as oil and gas companies.  Since energy prices tend to be volatile, energy stocks could be a good choice for a buy low/sell high strategy.  Timing is everything with this sector.

Precious metals

This sector mainly relates to gold mining companies, but with mutual funds and ETF’s it often includes holdings of the metal itself.

This is probably the most volatile sector, languishing most of the time, but providing spectacular returns when gold is in a bull market.  Mining company stocks don’t always follow gold prices to higher ground though, making this sector nearly schizophrenic.

Technology

This is a catch phrase for a variety of technology stocks, including information technology, bio technology and others.  Since this is a field that tends to define forward progress for the entire economy, it’s a sector that you never want be out of, especially when the economy is coming out of a recession.

Healthcare

This is a broad category as well, including everything from manufacturers of medical equipment, to hospital management companies to pharmaceutical companies.  Since the healthcare industry grows no matter what else is happening with the general economy, it’s a sector you want to be in.

Financials

Banks, brokerage firms, mortgage companies and anything related, this sector is a play on the financial economy.

Diversifying among sectors, not just among stocks

Most investors understand the importance of diversifying, at least as it relates to individual stocks.

But it’s at least as important to diversify between sectors too.

At any given time, some sectors are rising, some are falling and some are running in place.  By spreading your investment capital you not only minimize the impact of a falling sector or two, but you also position yourself to take advantage of one that’s taking off.

Some sectors, such as growth and dividend stocks, tend to be mutually exclusive to a large extent.  Growth stocks are more volatile, rocketing in bull markets but crashing in bear markets.  But dividend stocks tend to rise more slowly in bull markets, but fall less dramatically in bear markets.  Having both is a way to participate in growth, while limiting the negative affect of a fall out.

Using mutual funds and ETF’s to build a portfolio

Unless you’re a big time investor with a seven figure investment portfolio, it will be difficult to diversify between the various market sectors, then to also diversify in individual stocks within each sector.

That’s where mutual funds and ETF’s come to the rescue.

There are hundreds of different funds that invest in the various sectors of the market, making it easy to buy into a virtual portfolio of stocks in any sector you want.  No load and low load funds make this less expensive than buying individual stocks and you also have the benefit of professional management by an expert in each sector.

The last point is especially important; while you might be able to become an expert in one, two, maybe three sectors, you probably won’t be able to master several, at least not enough to do so profitably (and that’s if you’re lucky enough to really be an expert in the sector).

If you use funds to diversify into the different sectors, your job will be limited to deciding when to buy, when to sell and how much to invest in each.  The more tedious work of deciding which stocks to invest in will be handled by your funds managers.

This has a major advantage to you as an investor.  Were you to invest in every sector imaginable, you’d basically diversify yourself into the general market; you could do that with an index fund.  But if you spend your time studying a group of sectors, you could become familiar with their cycles, what external factors affect them, and eventually, discipline yourself to buy in when a sector is cheap and sell when it gets too pricey.

You could do that because you’d no longer be tracking stocks, but stock market sectors.  That’s an easier job if only because there are a lot fewer sectors than there are stocks.  That can only increase your chance of investment success.

Finally

You can see there are a good number of basic headings a stock could fall under, and any particular stock could be in more than one market sector.  Knowing about the commonly used sectors can help you diversify your portfolio for a better return as well as give you a way to study the market without trying to learn about every single stock.  These days it’s easy to follow a sector with a mutual fund or ETF.

Knowing what these sectors are is another aspect of knowing what the market is and will help you in better understanding your investments.

Have you had any success at investing in stock sectors?

Published or updated August 16, 2012.

Comments

  1. In my vanguard target retirement fund they hold a total stock market fund that is well diversified between sectors. That is good enough for me.

  2. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I let my retirement plan do the diversification for me.

  3. I have put into practice these ideas for many years. You are right on! Index funds give you an average performance (not too good the last 12 years). By doing your homework you can invest in the sectors with the best value. If you want to go further you can invest in the best stocks in those sectors.
    As just one example, I have avoided all financial stocks the last 6 years. That has reduced the risk of my portfolio and greatly improved returns over that time period. Just avoiding one really bad sector can make a huge difference in your portfolio returns!
    Just like the stock market, sectors go in and out of favor. Sectors that stay in favor for long periods of time become overvalued and should be avoided. Sectors that stay out of favor for long periods of time can become the best opportunities available and should be considered for long term investing.

  4. It is amazing how specific you can get into sectors today. I remember recently seeing a REIT for just woodlands lol

  5. Richard Kroner says:

    I have been investing an IRA at Folioinvestments.com It is quite similiar to your idea. They list about 150 ready made folios and you buy & sell as many folios you wish for a set fee of
    $29.95 permonth. You can add, subtract allocate any % to any folio. Many are updated
    monthly, some quarterly etc. They also give a tremendous amount of information on your
    holdings and all the their folios with comparisons and which has done better 1 mo , 3 mo etc.

    Isn’t this sort of like your idea?
    richard kroner

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