The stock market began the year on an optimistic note, and domestic equity funds sang along in harmony.
The average domestic stock fund rose 6.7% in the first quarter, with those in the small-cap sector outpacing mid- and large-cap funds. Small-cap growth portfolios gained 12.2% on average, making it the best-performing style category for the quarter. Small-cap value and blend styles climbed 11.0% and 11.3%, respectively.
All domestic style categories rose in the quarter, with the large-cap sector faring the worst and mid-caps falling in between.
The S&P 500 Index gained 3.7% in the first quarter (excluding dividends), already outpacing the 3.0% gain the benchmark recorded for all of 2005. (Including reinvested dividends, the S&P 500 gained 4.2% for the first quarter of 2006, versus a 4.9% showing for all of last year).
In terms of sectors, industrial stocks have done well in all categories. In addition, large-cap equities have benefitted from the telecom and energy sectors, while materials and consumer staples worked in small-caps’ favor.
Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor’s, concedes that the “fat lady may be starting to sing” for small-cap stocks. Earnings growth has been declining — Standard & Poor’s lowered its 2006 operating estimates for the small-cap sector to 16% from 19%, while holding estimates for large-caps steady at 11%. Consequently, small-cap stocks are getting pricey, with an average P/E ratio of 18.4 (versus 15.3 for large-caps) based on 2006 estimated earnings.