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The Nasdaq 100 is up big this year, but the companies leading the gains may not be the ones you think.
The stock market gains this year are shaping out to be the best in well over a decade. With September heading toward its close, the S&P 500 is on track for its best first three quarters since 1997.
The index has soared 19.4 percent this year, but how long will the rally continue?
Since 1928, the market has been up this much only 14 other times. In 10 of those instances, the S&P 500 continued to climb in the last quarter of the year, posting an average gain of 6.9 percent.
When the market was down, however, it was down big. Consider two of the last four times the S&P 500 fell in Q4, both of which took place during crash years: Q4 1987 (-23%) and Q4 1929 (-29%).
Anytime there's a $40 billion transaction being announced, you take notice. That's the case for Microsoft, which set a massive stock buyback program along with a dividend increase on Tuesday, two days ahead of a highly anticipated investor meeting.
Microsoft is trying to make a pledge to shareholders that it will remain friendly by authorizing a $40 billion stock buyback program, replacing the prior $40 billion stock buyback plan set to expire at the end of this month.
It also boosted its quarterly dividend by 22 percent to 28 cents per share. On Thursday this week, shareholders will learn from Microsoft about its plans to replace Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who is expected to retire within a year.
Microsoft is not alone, though; there are a host of other companies that could be candidates for dividend increases.
The Nasdaq Dividend Achievers Index looks at US companies that are traded on either the Nasdaq or NYSE and have raised their yearly dividend payments for at least the last 10 years.
Three of the stocks caught our eye.
Since Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy five years ago, a screen of the S&P 500 reveals that only about 20 percent of the index components remain in the red.
According to data compiled by CNBC, a fourth of those companies belong to the financial sector. Shares of Citibank, Bank of America and AIG, for example, are still down more than 37 percent in the last five years while the S&P 500 is up 39 percent over the same period.
Among the winners, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Priceline.com are the two best performing stocks, rallying more than 1,100 percent. Other consumer names such as Netflix, Chipotle, Whole Foods and Starbucks are also up significantly, rising more than 400 percent.
Indeed, the S&P Consumer Discretionary sector is up 100 percent in the past five years, leading the gains in the S&P 500 –Health Care and Technology follow, up 61 percent and 60 percent, respectively.
Demand for small-cap stocks is increasing relative to established large-cap names, a divergence that may signal continued investor confidence in U.S.-centered growth.
The Russell 2000 index, which is most sensitive to domestic economic expansion, hit a new record Monday, surpassing its previous high of 1,063.52 on Aug. 5.
The benchmark has gained more than 6 percent in the past three months, compared with gains of 3 percent for the S&P 500 and of 1 percent for the Dow. The Russell has soared 24 percent this year.
Small-cap leadership is usually considered a bullish sign for the overall market, according to market professionals, as the sector is considered a gauge of the health of the domestic economy.
Technology has also been a bright spot for the market in the past three months, with the Nasdaq up 8 percent.
Should investors take any clues from this trend?
Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG, holds that improvement in Europe and China should benefit large caps over the next few months, while Art Hogan, managing director at Lazard Capital Markets, says investors should focus on names prone to capital appreciation on a cyclical basis versus defensive stocks, as things appear to stabilize in some emerging economies.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th. For the stock market, however, this 'unlucky' day tends to be relatively calm, with average gains of only 0.2 percent or less.
Below is a look at how stocks traded on this superstitious day.
When it comes to Apple products announcements, the strategy of "buy the rumor, sell the news" has worked more often than not.
Of the last 10 times Apple has held a special event to unveil a new product, its shares finished the day lower after six of those events, for an average decline of 1.3 percent. The stock fell 2.3 percent Tuesday and was trading lower in premarket trade on Wednesday. (Click here to track its share price.)
The unveil also preceded a trio of downgrades of the company's stock as some investors were left underwhelmed by the product launch.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil and gas concern, has seen its stock close in negative territory in 19 of the past 20 sessions. Since scaling to a five-year high of $95.45 in July, it's been all downhill since then as the stock has tumbled 9 percent.
Exxon's steep slide has cost investors in more ways than one. The oil big was once the world's most valuable company in terms of its market capitalization. Now, at $382 billion, Exxon's market capitalization is well behind technology giant Apple, which enjoys a market cap of about $458 billion.
Over the past 20 sessions, the energy giant has become the worst-performing component of the 30 blue-chip stocks that comprise the Dow Jones industrial average.
As the S&P 500 continues to trade near record highs, short interest appears to be on the rise.
According to data from FactSet, in the first half of July average short interest for S&P 500 stocks increased more than 5 percent, with over 55 percent of those companies seeing a spike in short interest.
Short interest measures the total number of shares of a security that have been sold short, expressed as a percent of total tradable shares.
Investors track short interest levels to gain a sense of where a stock might be headed, along with some insight into whether any positive news might force short traders to cover their positions, pushing stocks higher.