S&P 500 : Diversified, Concentrated or Both?

The biggest keep getting bigger.

As of Friday October 8th, 2021, the six technology giants— Facebook (FB), Amazon.com (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX), Microsoft (MSFT), and Alphabet (GOOG) —continue to dominate the S&P 500 index, accounting for a combined 25.0% of the total index. 

Characterized by high growth with some risk, tech stocks have demonstrated tremendous profitability over the past decade as American digital dependency has proliferated through households, business, and commercial interaction. The latitude by which the amount of people are touched by technology continues to expand and these digital transformations have undoubtedly propelled this tech dominance. Analysts, on the other hand, are beginning to grow wary of the rapid growth. The S&P serves as a historically diversified asset, but with 25% of the index congregated in the tech market, can we really consider the S&P an evenly spread index?

With the S&P 500 relatively top heavy and tech heavy, it’s worth asking ourselves…

Do we still consider the S&P 500 a diversified-enough investment? 

Does the potential tech sector size pose a risk for the markets?

Before critically reflecting on the relationship between tech dominance and diversification, it is worth taking a look at the S&P 500 alone as a measure of the stock market and American economy. The S&P 500 Index features the stock market index of largest U.S. publicly traded companies, weighted by market capitalization—the larger the market capitalization, the higher the percentage allocation. Institutional investors often prefer the S&P for its increased depth and breadth and mitigated risk, as opposed to the Dow Jones Industrial Average (historically associated with the retail investor’s gauge of the stock market). Because the S&P comprises more stocks across all sectors of the market (500 versus the Dow’s 30 industrials), many investors perceive the S&P 500 as a more accurate representation of U.S. equity markets.

Addressing the potential risk for markets, my response wouldn’t induce bearishness. The S&P 500 remains a darwinistic index by construction and as a byproduct, the companies have brought in growing market share. Despite tech increasing in market dominance, the industry built exists as a genuine creation. COVID-19 and the subsequent business changes —new customer behavior and needs, unpredictable demand, and huge spikes in working remotely—have propelled a rapid migration to digital technologies in all industries and sectors, and has ultimately accelerated global digitalization. Tech stocks have more than doubled in the past two years, making it the best performing sector in both 2019 and 2020. However, before 2017, technology remained more of an average performer, and often fell below other S&P sectors, like consumer discretionary, industrials, and communication services. The market share of FAANG and Microsoft has come to make up a significant portion of the notoriously diversified S&P 500, but, as I would argue, the dominance is rightfully so; tech dominance in the stock market was propelled by their unprecedented reach into our lives, shaping how we work, communicate, shop and relax.

With a quarter of the market cap heavily concentrated in 6 or 7 companies, how does this concentration affect risk of the market? To answer this question, we also must flip the question on its head and ask if there is investment opportunity for the other 75%? Whether you look at smaller valuation stocks or smaller capitalization stocks, there is undoubtedly opportunity out there. Opportunity affects both FAANG and the smaller market cap stocks out there. Take Tesla (TSLA) for example. This week TSLA held the 7th highest weight of market cap for the S&P 500. While this is an impressive feat for Elon Musk, it begs the question of where does TSLA plan to grow from there. Can they continue to push and gain more market overtime or will they fall down the line? And what about company #50? What are the respective growth prospects for the company ranked 50th for market cap concentration? It’s very possible the growth trajectory for the 50th company might be better positioned against the 7th, but regardless, the question of growth trajectory remains an important consideration when analyzing risk of tech dominance and opportunities for smaller valuation stocks to rise up. 

While the risk of tech seems particularly heavy for the market, the S&P index is also an incredibly distinct asset for its fair balance in secular growers, cyclicals, and defensives. There are periods of time in the market where tech stocks come off, then all of a sudden banks come on, or banks come off then healthcare comes on. This see-saw-like activity creates a remarkably favorable asset for investors to mitigate the risk of the tech sector falling. Going forward, investors should be mindful of the concentration of risk and investment opportunities out there, but the incredible growth of FAANG and Microsoft is assuredly a credit to the companies strategy themselves.

7 comments

  1. Great Post! As I was reading this I was thinking of M&A in tech. The smaller companies keep getting bought out by the larger companies; especially FAANG. This also plays a key factor in their growth, because they are able to buy off tech innovation and grow it further. I wonder if the smaller companies were given a better environment in policy and funding wise, if they would grow and truly keep the index diversified instead of concentrated in FAANG.

  2. Great blog post! I’m not too surprised that only a few tech companies make up 25% of the S&P 500, especially coming out of the pandemic, where the use of technology expanded rapidly because people needed to stay connected and in reach of essential goods and services. There’s certainly a risk if your portfolio leans too heavy on the tech sector. To your point, in the second to last paragraph, I think there’s a lot of opportunity in small cap/growth stocks. I mean 10 years ago, no one would have thought that Amazon would be where it is today, and so the excitement for me, comes from finding the next company that will take off.

  3. Great post! As I was reading this I was thinking the exact thing @patelxp was think regarding M&A. She’s spot on in that many large tech companies gobble up smaller tech companies to do a number of things:

    1. use their technology in their on products
    2. kill their technology
    3. grow their buyer base

    I can’t help but wonder though if big tech ever becomes too big to fail in the sense that the top 10-15 companies control too much of the technology. Take Amazon for example. Eventually you’d think that some company is going to come along and potentially upend them with a new technology. In reality I don’t know if that will ever be possible given the resources Amazon has at its disposable. It makes you question if there will ever be a new tech giant out there or have the FAANGM companies established themselves to dominate for the foreseeable future.

  4. I’m going to attempt to make the case that these companies do constitute provide a certain diversification. With how many other companies are dependent on their services, they tend to leave a footprint across the market. They also do so much international business that they cover the potential upside of immerging markets. It is for that reason that I don’t bother investing in an international index.

  5. As an avid Jim Cramer follower, “Faang” is constantly in the news so I’m glad you wrote a post about it. I would liken these companies to the modern day blue-chips in the tech world. When bucketed together its easy to think they are direct competitors only with one-another, but due to their diversity there are thousands of smaller companies directly impacts by each move these titans make. I’d be interested in the skew of companies who are not directly in the Tech industry, but are part of the S&P

  6. This is a great post! The past couple of years have seen a boom in tech companies and the biggest (FAANG) gaining even more power during the pandemic. Despite this, I never realized how much they weighted compared to the remainder of the S&P 500. Now I am wondering, will tech keep gaining momentum and power, or will other industries see a rebound after the pandemic?

  7. I hate to drop this in the comments, but here are my two cents. Technology has so many great characteristics, but one crappy externality of technology is that it’s deflationary. You can do more with less, and that’s not great for earnings, it’s not great for labor participation and all the other reasons people are really upset about today. The pace of technology on one side is cheaper, faster and better…an inherent efficiency building up over time. On the other side, tech swallows up labor, and to counter that, we are now overpaying individuals to work. These are the externalities becoming more prominent, especially during the pandemic. What this also shows us is that big tech companies always had the money to increase wages, they just didn’t want to. Though big tech doesn’t seem like a risk, those risk on are investing in the riskiest of things. Give it a year or so and we will see tech fall back to earth. Then, those small cap stocks will once again become more attractive.

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