Key takeaways

  • Technology stocks continue to lead today’s bull market.

  • Stocks representing the artificial intelligence space are among the market leaders.

  • Performance gains, however, are broadening out beyond technology-related S&P 500 sectors.

Through May 23, 2024, the S&P 500 Communication Services index is up 20.05% year-to-date, following a gain of 56% last year. The S&P 500 Information Technology index rose 17.71% year-to-date on the heels of a 58% runup the previous year. So far this year, both sectors outpaced the broader S&P 500, which rose 11.1%.1 The dominant theme in technology continues to center on artificial intelligence (AI) advances. Companies providing AI tools, such as semiconductor chips, are thriving as product demand soars.

“To this point, technology stock performance continues to be driven by just a few companies,” says Rob Haworth senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “Specifically, chip companies dominate the top performing stocks in the index.” By contrast, says Haworth, some hardware companies, such as Apple, saw performance lag year-to-date.

Investors have long been drawn to the market’s tech sector and the resulting innovations that often have a visible impact on society and capture the public’s imagination. “Fast is getting faster, and speed, scale and efficiencies across the board don’t happen without technology,” notes Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “To a large degree, technology is impacting all sectors of the economy in all walks of life.”

Information technology stocks currently represent the largest sector of the benchmark S&P 500 Index, comprising 29% of the index’s value. When you add in communications services stocks, many of which connect with the technology arena, the group represents more than 38% of the S&P 500.2 This means that individuals who invest in a broad stock market index likely already have significant exposure to technology stocks.

Pie chart depicts the relative size of the sector components that make up the S&P 500 Index of stocks. Information Technology stocks make up 29.2% of the S&P 500 and when combined with Communication Services stocks, technology stocks make up 38.3% of the S&P 500.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices as of April 30, 2024. For illustrative purposes only.

“It’s important as a signal for the economy overall that we see market leadership broaden beyond technology names,” notes Haworth. “However, it doesn’t mean that investors are ready to lower expectations for AI companies, which would primarily benefit the technology sector.”

Given their significant recent price gains, do tech stocks remain an attractive value for investors? How will conditions in the underlying economy affect the environment for these stocks?

 

An ever-evolving tech sector

Technology stocks are prominent among what are considered the “mega-cap” stocks of the S&P 500. five of the top six stocks in the index (Microsoft, Apple, Nvidia, Alphabet, Meta Platforms) are in the information technology and communication services sectors. Those five stocks alone represent more than one-fifth of the market capitalization of the S&P 500.3

But these prominent stocks only scratch the surface. Technology stocks represent a broad range of companies that cut across a variety of sectors within the broader stock market. New technologies and companies continually emerge.

“Tech companies are generating earnings, but valuations of many tech stocks have been driven higher based on earnings expectations,” says Rob Haworth, senior investment strategy director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The question in 2024 is whether these companies can maintain a level of earnings growth that lives up to current stock prices.”

Nvidia, a 30-year-old company that is heavily involved in the artificial intelligence arena, is a prime example of how the surge of excitement over the potential of AI can fuel investor enthusiasm. Over the course of 2023, Nvidia stock rose 239%, and more than doubled again in value year-to-date through May 23,2024.4

“Chip companies that are growing profits through strong order volume are, to this point, the biggest beneficiaries of the AI push,” says Haworth. “So far, we’ve determined that we need to build chips to make AI happen, but we haven’t figured out everything else. The question ultimately comes down to how AI creates value for consumers, giving other companies the opportunity to monetize it.” Haworth says AI and cloud computing account for a significant portion of today’s corporate spending, as companies seek to enhance productivity and boost their bottom lines. “Equity markets are paying close attention to this trend, and companies that provide AI and cloud computing solutions are generating significant profits.”

 

How long can the tech stock surge persist?

Over four of the previous five years, technology stocks have outpaced the broader stock market. 2022 was a notable exception. So far in 2024, technology stocks again lead the market, though by a narrower margin than was the case in 2023.

Chart depicts returns of tech stocks versus all S&P 500 stocks during the following period: 2019 – May 23, 2024.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices as of May 23, 2024. Communication Services and Information Technology represent a subset of stocks included in the S&P 500. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Index data shown is unmanaged and not available for direct investment. For illustrative purposes only.

“The key question is whether current lofty valuations for some tech stocks can be sustained by real revenue growth,” says Haworth. He notes that if technology stocks again lead the market in 2024, it may signal greater challenges for non-technology firms. “These tech companies need the firms that serve as their customers to also be in a strong financial position to invest in more technology,” says Haworth. He notes that technology companies continue to be among the most profitable based on first quarter 2024 earnings reports.

While some investors wonder if the technology stock rally may run out of steam, Sandven remains optimistic about the sector’s long-term potential. “If you look at what backs up this move in AI-associated stocks, it is continued corporate capital spending,” he says. “Companies are looking to get bigger, faster and stronger. They’re not doing that through hiring more people. They’re doing that through technology spending.”

Haworth also believes that some of the largest technology companies are in a solid position to weather the storm of a higher interest rate environment. “Because of their healthy balance sheets, a number of these firms can self-fund growth and don’t need to issue bonds and deal with higher borrowing costs. They also hold large cash reserves, which can be safely invested and earn high interest rates.”

At current high valuation levels, are there inherent risks with technology stocks? Haworth notes, “Tech companies are generating earnings, but valuations of many tech stocks have been driven higher based on earnings expectations. The question in 2024 is whether these companies can maintain a level of earnings growth that lives up to current stock prices.”

Mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETF) that track a major index like the S&P 500 provide significant exposure to this high-profile segment of the broader market. Technology is even more prominent in the NASDAQ Composite Index. It’s reasonable to expect that technology stocks will play a role in any broadly diversified portfolio.

 

The future for technology stocks

“Over the long term, technology stocks can be expected to remain highly visible in the broader market,” says Sandven. He believes that technology advancements will continue, which presents new opportunities for investors.

Haworth agrees that technology stocks have a bright future. “Innovations will continue to change the world and that will create investment potential,” says Haworth. Importantly, however, he notes that investors need to be selective in their approach to this sector of the market. While some technology startups achieve tremendous success, many firms fail to get off the ground. In addition, factors such as increased regulation regarding AI and social media is a potential concern on the horizon that could affect business prospects. Investors should be certain to weigh these factors as they consider technology stocks’ role in their portfolios.

As you assess the most effective ways to position your portfolio consistent with your goals and time horizon, be sure to consult with your financial professional.

The S&P 500 Index consists of 500 widely traded stocks that are considered to represent the performance of the U.S. stock market in general. It is an unmanaged index and direct investment in the index is not possible.

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Disclosures

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  1. Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC.

  2. S&P Dow Jones Indices, “S&P 500 Fact Sheet,” April 30, 2024.

  3. S&P Dow Jones Indices; Investopedia, stock weightings as of April 22, 2024.

  4. Finance.yahoo.com, Nvidia stock price performance, Dec. 30, 2022 through Dec. 29, 2023 and Dec. 29, 2023 through May 23, 2024.

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