Saturday, February 14, 2009

Distortions of the Dow

Off and on over the years [John Mauldin has] written about the distortions that the Dow Jones Industrials creates by using a price-based index rather than a market cap index. As an example, if Microsoft with a market cap of $153 billion went to a price of zero, all the Dow would lose would be 136 points, or less than 2%. If IBM with a market cap of $120 billion went to zero, the Dow would lose over 700 points! But it gets worse. David Kotok forwarded this note to me from our mutual friend Jim Bianco (, which Jim graciously allowed me to reproduce for your edification (prices quoted below are from a few days ago):

"Comment - The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index. The divisor for the DJIA is 7.964782. That means that every $1 a DJIA stock loses, the index loses 7.96 points, regardless of the company's market capitalization.

"Dow Jones, the keeper of the DJIA, has an unwritten rule that any DJIA stock that gets below $10 gets tossed out. As of last night's close (January 20), The DJIA had the following stocks less than $10 ...

Citi (C) = $2.80
GM (GM) = $3.50
B of A (BAC) = $5.10
Alcoa (AA) = $8.35

"If all four of these stocks went to zero on today's open, the DJIA would lose only 157.3 points.

"The financials in the DJIA are ...

Citi (C) = $2.80
B of A (BAC) = $5.10
Amex (AXP) = 15.60
JP Morgan (JPM) = $18.09

"If every financial stock in the DJIA went to zero on today's open, it would only lose 331.25 points, less than it lost yesterday (332.13 points).

"If you want to add GE into the financial sector, a debatable proposition, then: GE (GE) = $12.93

"If the four financial stocks above and GE opened at zero today, the DJIA would only lose 434.24 points.

"The reason the DJIA is outperforming on the downside is the index committee is not doing it job and replacing sub-$10 stocks, and the financials are so beaten up that they cannot push the index much lower.

"So what is driving the index? The highest-priced stocks:

IBM (IBM) = $81.98
Exxon (XOM) = $76.29
Chevron (CHV) = $68.31
P&G (PG) = $57.34
McDonalds (MCD) = $57.07
J&J (JNJ) = $56.75
3M (MMM) = $53.92
Wal-Mart (WMT) = $50.56

"For instance, if all the sub-$10 stocks listed above, all the financials listed above, and GE opened at zero, the DJIA loses 528.63 points. To repeat if C, BAC, GM, AA, JPM, AXP and GE all open at zero, the DJIA loses 528.63 points.

"If IBM opens at zero, it loses 652.95 points [IBM has risen since then – JM]. So, the DJIA says that IBM has more influence on the index than all the financials, autos, GE, and Alcoa combined.

"The DJIA is not normal as the index committee is not doing their job during this crisis, possibly because to the political fallout of kicking out a Citi or GM. As a result, this index is now severely distorted as it has a tiny weighting in financials and autos."

You could add Microsoft to the list Jim created and not be over where IBM is today in terms of the DJIA index.

Let's look at it another way. A 10% positive move for IBM would move the Dow up by over 60 points. A 10% move by Citigroup would increase the Dow by less than 3 points. Having stocks with low prices clearly prevents the Dow from declining as much as other market-cap-weighted indexes like the S&P 500.

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