The stock market does a good job discovering prices, but it gets carried away to extremes by narratives that capture everyone’s attention. When these stories change, the market changes.
In the early days of computing, memory was expensive, and programming in binary code was tedious. To save both money and time, programmers abbreviated years to two digits. For example, the year “1999” would have been recorded as just “99.”
This limitation was widely known going back at least to 1985, but by 1997, it was crunch time. Without a fix, there may or may not have been a valid date in computers for the first day of January 2000. And who would want to be in an elevator or flying in a plane when the clock struck midnight?
This “Year 2000 Problem” became known as Y2K. Companies all over the world were upgrading computer hardware and software in anticipation of Y2K. This further increased the high demand for technology, and the stock market investors were well-aware. It added fuel to the tech-stock fire and caused many to adopt a belief that the best way to make money was in technology stocks.
Covid-19 precautions created a similar tech-heavy narrative to investing in the year 2020. While many of the largest companies profited a great deal from the Covid-lockdown of 2020, investors began to favor any technology companies, even those without profits, by the end of the year.
I decided to go back over the last 20 years to test the idea that the best way to make money is in technology stocks. After all, who could argue that technology companies have not been the most successful since the year 2000? What I found surprised me. From February 2000 to February 2021, the tech-heavy NASDAQ index returned an average of 5.05% per year. How about the more diversified S&P 500? Over the same time, it averaged 5.02%—roughly the same with a lot less volatility.
How could the S&P 500 outperform when “FAANG” (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) companies have been so prominent? While these did fine in the early 2000s, the best performing areas were sectors outside of technology.
It is impossible to say exactly what the future will bring, but a change in leadership at some point is inevitable. As we enter the spring of 2021, we may have already seen a change begin. With vaccine distribution, investors have transitioned from a tech-loving lockdown to a stimulus-charged reopening. Only time will tell if this is truly the beginning of new market leadership or if that change won’t come until later.