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The Nasdaq Composite remains the last major U.S. stock index that has yet to reach record territory, but as it marches towards a new milestone, there are just a handful of stocks—five to be precise—that could wield a disproportionate amount of power over any movement.
Before we name them, here's why they have so much influence right now.
The index is made up of the more than 3,000 stocks that are listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market. While some of the largest publicly traded companies are represented, there are also many small and even micro capitalization stocks as well. As a market cap weighted index, the Nasdaq Composite is influenced more by the bigger companies than the smaller ones.
That's where the Nasdaq 100 Index comes in. It takes the Composite Index, and narrows down to focus on just 100 of the largest stocks listed on the Nasdaq. Over the past year, the Composite's 16 percent gain has trailed the 100's 21 percent gain. So far in 2015, both are up about 5 percent.
A more detailed examination of the stocks with the greatest market value (thus, the most influential on the direction of the underlying index) shows that all of the year-to-date gains are concentrated within just five stocks.
The Nasdaq 100 is up 213 points so far in 2015 (through the close on Feb. 23). Based on current index weightings, shares of online video streaming company Netflix have contributed nearly 10 points to that total, given its 38 percent gain.
A couple of biotech companies are the biggest contributors, with Gilead Sciences' 11 percent gain adding 15 points, and Biogen Idec's 20 percent gain worth 17 points. The second-biggest point contributor is online shopping giant Amazon.com, whose 22 percent rise has contributed 35 points.
And finally, there's the obvious one: Apple. The world's richest company by market value dominates the rise in the Nasdaq 100. With a market cap of $775 billion, Apple's 20 percent year-to-date gain has contributed a whopping 141 points to the total.
To sum it up, the Nasdaq 100 Index of larger-cap companies has gained 213 points so far in 2015. Netflix, Gilead, Biogen Idec, Amazon.com and Apple have combined to contribute 218 points to the overall tally.
Apple alone accounts for two-thirds of the entire Nasdaq 100's performance. That means the other 95 stocks in the index have combined for a net effect of close to zero.
The three biggest drags on the index have been Microsoft, Intel and Yahoo. Microsoft is worth -15 points on the total, Intel worth -10 points, and Yahoo worth -5 points.
While much of the focus for traders and investors will be on the Nasdaq Composite's run towards a record closing level of 5,048.62 (reached on March 10, 2000) and the intraday high of 5,132.52 on that same day, it may be worth keeping an even closer eye on just five stocks. By virtue of their market values and current upside price momentum it's very likely that Netflix, Gilead, Biogen, Amazon and Apple will be doing much, if not all, of the heavy lifting in the event we break through the peak levels from the internet stock bubble.