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Stock Sectors - The 11 Sectors of the Stock Market You Need to Know!

January 12, 2021 16:30 UTC
Reading time: 22 minutes

Did you know that the US stock market is comprised of 11 stock sectors and 24 industry groups known as the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) and are widely used by professional investors and fund managers? 

The sectors and industry groupings help traders, investors, analysts and portfolio managers to capitalise on a specific business activity such as companies who are in the banking, healthcare or retail sector. 

This laser-like focus on the construct of the overall stock market gives a unique edge to those in the know and is something everyone needs to know about! 

Read on to find out more!

Stock sectors

In this article, you will learn:

What are stock sectors and the 11 sectors of the stock market used by professional investors to find high-quality investment opportunities. 

How to bullet-proof your portfolio by identifying specific stock market sectors through exchange traded funds (ETFs), allowing for a more passive style of investing. 

How to open an Invest.MT5 account with a minimum of just €1 and access low commissions from just $0.01 on US stocks to invest in the best stock sectors, ETFs and individual stocks.

How to open a Trade.MT5 account to trade stock sectors via Contracts for Difference (CFDs) allowing you to potentially profit from both rising AND falling stock market sectors. 

Why supercharging your MetaTrader 5 trading platform to the FREE and exclusive Admiral Markets Supreme Edition can help in making better decisions through the Technical Insight Lookup indicator which provides you with actionable trading ideas!

How to open a FREE demo trading and investing account so you can test all of the services from Admiral Markets UK Ltd in a virtual environment until you are ready to go live!

And much, much more!

What are stock sectors? 

A stock sector is a group of companies that engage in the same business activity. There are 11 sectors of the stock market which were created by Standard and Poor’s (S&P) and Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) which they called the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) in 1999. 

The GICS was designed as an investment tool to capture the evolution of different sectors. The sector categorisations are widely used by portfolio managers around the world to help determine the best places to allocate their funds. But they are useful to all types of market participants - analysts, traders, investors and portfolio managers

By analysing the different stock market sectors analysts can gain a quick snapshot of where the money is flowing into and out of. Investors can then use this information to participate in high performing sectors while exiting weak performing sectors. Traders may focus on high performing sectors that exhibit strong momentum price trends. 

▶️ The 11 stock sectors based on size include the following: Information Technology, Financials, Health Care, Consumer Discretionary, Consumer Staples, Communication Services, Industrials, Materials, Real Estate, Energy, Utilities. 

Before we look at each of these sectors in detail, did you know that by downloading the FREE MetaTrader 5 trading platform you can view live and historical prices of thousands of stocks and exchange traded funds (ETFs) from the 11 stock sectors listed above?

Start your free download today by clicking on the banner below:

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The 11 sectors of the stock market

Let’s now have a look at the 11 sectors of the stock market as categorised by the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) so you can understand a bit more about what these sectors represent. This will be useful information for the section after this when we discuss how to trade and invest in these sectors and the unique correlation they have with the business cycle!

Information Technology

The information technology sector consists of companies that fall in the following industries: software and services, technology hardware and equipment and semiconductors and semiconductor equipment. 

Companies within this sector often provide technological services or produce technological products. Some of the most well-known companies in this stock sector include Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, etc. 

Financials

The financial sector consists of companies that fall in the following industries: banks, diversified financials and insurance. The primary business activity is related to handling money. 

Companies within this sector tend to be more mature and well-established and include the likes of JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, American Express, etc. 

Health Care 

The health care sector consists of companies that fall in the health care equipment and services industry, as well as the pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and life science industry.

Companies within this sector tend to be quite diverse across the medical spectrum from development to consumer and includes the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Moderna, etc. 

Consumer Discretionary

The consumer discretionary sector consists of companies in a variety of industries which include automobiles and components, consumer durables and apparel, consumer services and retailing. 

Companies that operate within this sector sell goods or provide services that are typically not essential. They tend to benefit from a strong economy where consumer spending is high and includes the likes of Amazon, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Ford, etc. 

Consumer Staples

The consumer staples sector consists of companies that operate in industries such as food and staples retailing, food, beverage and tobacco and household and personal products. 

Companies which operate in this sector tend to provide goods and services that are essential in life and are likely to be in demand in any type of economic situation. This includes the likes of Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Walmart and others. 

Communication Services

The communication services sector is the newest addition to the GICS sectors list and includes industries that used to be part of other sectors, including telecommunication services and media and entertainment. 

Companies operating in this sector tend to keep people connected either through telecommunication and wireless services, or through entertainment. This includes companies such as Netflix, Facebook, AT&T and others.  

Industrials 

The industrials sector encompasses a wide range of industries that fall under the capital goods, commercial and professional services and transportation groups. 

Companies within this sector are generally involved in heavy equipment and includes engineering companies, building machinery, airlines and more. Some well-known companies in this sector include Boeing, FedEx, Delta Airlines, etc. 

Materials

The materials sector consists of companies that are focused on activities in chemicals, construction materials, containers and packaging, metals and mining and paper and forest products. 

Companies in this sector include DuPont de Nemours, Dow Inc, Freeport-Mcmoran and others. 

Real Estate

The real estate sector consists of companies that fall under industries such as real estate management and development and equity real estate investment trusts (REITs). 

Companies in this sector include American Tower Corp, CBRE Group, Equinix, Simon Property Group and more. 

Energy

The energy sector consists of companies that operate in the energy equipment and services industry, as well as oil, gas and consumable fuels industry. 

Companies in this sector tend to extract energy commodities, refine the commodity or provide the equipment to do so. This includes companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Halliburton, Oneok Inc and others. 

Utilities

The utilities sector consists of companies that operate in industries such as electric utilities, gas utilities, multi-utilities, water utilities and independent power and renewable electricity producers. 

Companies within this sector tend to provide utilities for buildings and households such as NextEra Energy, Exelon Corp, Duke Energy, American Electric Power and others. 

➢➢➢ Did you know that you can invest in all of the stocks listed above and more from each of the sectors with an Admiral Markets Invest.MT5 account? With only a €1 minimum deposit to open the account, you can enjoy free access to real-time prices while accessing low commissions and low minimum transaction fees! 

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How do you trade stock market sectors?

There are a variety of ways to speculate on stock sectors which will depend on the individual’s trading or investing style, such as day trading, swing trading, investing and so on. 

▶️ Day traders of stock market sectors will focus on strong-performing sectors to capitalise on momentum-based price trends. 

▶️ Long-term value investors may try to find the bottom in a weak performing sector to capitalise when the trend changes. 

However, from a broader perspective, the first decision is whether or not to focus on the overall sector or find the best performing company within a sector. Let’s take a look at the differences. 

Trading the overall stock market sector using ETFs

Through the use of exchange traded funds (ETFs), both traders and investors can gain exposure to a specific sector. You can learn more about ETFs in the ‘How to Trade ETFs’ article. 

Essentially, ETFs are investment funds that track the performance of a specific market such as a currency, commodity, index or sector. They allow investors to access regions or sectors that may otherwise be difficult to access. There are a diverse range of ETFs available such as the Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence ETF. 

Fortunately, there are also ETFs that cover all of the 11 sectors of the stock market! There are different fund providers that provide access to stock sector ETFs. For example, if an investor was bullish on the potential for the financial sector to rally higher due to an environment of increasing interest rates, they may choose to invest in the Fidelity MSCI Financials Index ETF, or the iShares US Financials ETFs or even the Vanguard Financials ETF. 

From the Admiral Markets Contract Specification page, you can view all of the ETFs available to trade and invest in. The image below shows a search for ‘Financials,’ which provides information on all the financial ETFs available in the Admiral Markets trading platform:

Stock sectors Financials ETF

Source: Admiral Markets Contract Specification

The ETFs listed above provide investors with exposure to the financial sector without having to find individual financial stock investments. Having the ability to invest in the broader sector becomes even more useful when investing in lesser-known sectors such as utilities or materials. 

Fortunately, ETF providers provide a detailed list of the individual stocks that make up the ETF. For example, in the Vanguard Financials ETF profile it provides details such as portfolio composition, the number of stocks held in the fund and the month-end top 10 largest holdings, as the screenshot below shows:

Stock sectors Vanguard Financials ETF

Source: Vanguard, 12 January 2021

From the above, we can see that the fund holds 418 stocks that are involved in the financial sector. 22.80% of the fund is in diversified banks with 9.40% of the fund invested in asset management and custody banks. The largest holding in the fund is JP Morgan Chase with the second being Berkshire Hathaway. 

Through stock sector ETFs, investors can gain exposure to a broad sector without trying to find the best stocks within that sector. However, if time allows, investors can also trade on the individual stocks within a sector. One way to find the best stocks within a sector is to research the top holdings of some of the most popular sector ETFs. 

Fortunately, with the MetaTrader 5 trading platform provided by Admiral Markets users can trade or invest in both stocks and ETFs from 15 of the largest stock exchanges in the world. In fact, through the Trader’s Room you can manage an investing account, such as the Invest.MT5 account, as well as other accounts such as the Trade.MT5 account which allows users to trade via Contracts for Difference (CFDs). 

Trading via CFDs allows traders to potentially profit from both rising and falling markets while utilising leverage. This means you can control a larger position size with a smaller deposit. Click on the banner below to open an account and learn more:

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How to invest in stock sectors

To start investing in stock sectors, follow the five steps below:

  1. Open your FREE MetaTrader 5 trading platform provided by Admiral Markets or start your free download here, if you haven’t downloaded it. 
  2. In the platform, open the Market Watch window by selecting View from the top menu and then Market Watch. 
  3. Right-click in this window and then select Symbols. You can now search for individual markets covering stocks, ETFs, indices, currencies and more. Type in the market you are wishing to trade on, or simply type in the sector and a list of different instruments will be provided.  
  4. For example, by typing in ‘Energy ETF’ we can see there are a variety of ETFs available, as shown below:

Stock sectors ETF list

5. Select your instrument and press OK. This will now be added in your Market Watch window. To view the price chart, simply drag the symbol onto the chart. To open a trading ticket, right-click on the chart and select Trading and then New Order. A trading ticket will open up for you to input your own entry, stop loss and take profit levels as well as your position size.

Stock sectors trading ticket

A screenshot showing the MetaTrader 5 trading platform provided by Admiral Markets with a trading ticket open on the chart.  

You can learn more about how to trade sectors in this 44-minute video on ‘Trading the Financial Sector via ETF CFDs.’ Created and presented by a professional trader, this video will go through what the financial sector is, why European banks are showing some interesting signs, how to look at the price-to-book ratio and how to trade the European bank sector.

Be sure to tune in!

The business cycle and stock sectors performance

When trading or investing in different stock market sectors, it can be very powerful to understand the correlation between sectors and the business cycle. This is because some sectors perform best during specific times of the business cycle, also known as the economic cycle, providing a huge edge for those in the know. 

The typical business cycle has four phases:

1. Early cycle: This is the point in time in which the economy experiences a sharp recovery from a recession. As central banks cut interest rates in a recession to stimulate the economy, there is a lot of cheap money flowing around which helps economic indicators such as GDP and industrial figures move into the positive. 

2. Mid cycle: This is typically the longest phase in the overall business cycle. Economic activity across the board has picked up significantly and gathers momentum over time. As growth in credit is strong, monetary policy from central banks turns neutral. But, while this is the longest cycle overall, growth tends to be moderate. 

3. Late cycle: At some point, economic activity will reach a peak with growth remaining positive but starting to slow. In this cycle, inflation typically rises causing central banks to tighten their monetary policy. 

4. Recession: Once economic activity starts to contract, company profits start to decline causing credit to dry up and possible unemployment and lack of investment. 

According to research from investment bank Fidelity, there is a tendency for some sectors to perform strongly or weakly during certain times of the business cycle. The image below from Fidelity Investments shows this clearly among the GICS stock sectors. While stock sectors performance will vary over time, this still provides investors with a unique edge on what sectors to focus on when. 

Stock market sectors performance

Source: Fidelity, 12 January 2021

In the image above, it’s clear to see which sectors perform strongly or weakly during certain times of the business cycle. Using this information, investors could focus on buying strong stock sector ETFs during the times of the business cycle shown above in green, while using CFDs to short-sell stock sectors during the times of the business cycle shown above in red. 

Alternatively, investors could find individual stocks within each sector to speculate on. Using technical analysis could also provide additional confirmations on whether buyers or sellers are in control of a particular market. The next chapter discusses how investors can use technical analysis to help in identifying potential opportunities.

You can stay up-to-date with all the latest market analysis and global themes by registering for your FREE place in the Admiral Markets Trading Spotlight live webinar series which takes place three times a week. In these sessions, hosted by three different traders you can learn more about what’s going on in the markets, where the opportunities are and how to trade them.

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Stock sectors trading strategy

When trading or investing in stock market sectors there are a variety of tools that are available to individuals. These tools will typically fall under fundamental analysis or technical analysis. 

▶️ Fundamental analysis is the process of analysing economic indicators. An example of fundamental analysis would be the concepts discussed in the last section. Analysing economic indicators helps investors to understand where the economy is within the business cycle. Investors can then identify the best performing sectors to capitalise on. 

▶️ Technical analysis is the process of analysing historical price activity through patterns and indicators. While fundamental analysis can help an individual know which sector could outperform in the future, confirming the direction and timing the trade is also important. This is where technical analysis is mostly used. By using technical indicators, investors can confirm the trend of the market, as well as identify potential trading opportunities. 

For example, after the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, central banks loosened monetary policy to help revive the economy. During this time, most economies fell into a recession as the economic activity slowed down and in some cases stopped. The central bank monetary policy action helped the economy to move into an early cycle rebound where the real estate, consumer discretionary and industrials sectors tend to perform the best. 

Below is a daily chart of the Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF (VCR) which shows a clear early cycle recovery shortly after the coronavirus pandemic:

Vanguard Consumer Discretionary Stock Sectors ETF

Source: Admiral Markets MetaTrader 5, #VCR, Daily - Data range: from 15 Jul 2019 to 12 Jan 2021, accessed on 12 Jan 2021 at 15:30 GMT. Please note: Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. Last five-year performance: 2020 = +45.23%, 2019 = +25.88%, 2018 = -3.49%, 2017 = +4.99%, 2016 = +4.85%, 2015 = +8.17%.

In the daily chart above, the early cycle recovery is confirmed not only by price cycles making higher highs and higher lows but also by the order and angle of the moving averages. The 50-period (red), 100-period (green) and 200-period (blue) exponential moving averages are all moving upwards. 

Moving averages shows the average price level over a specific number of bars known as the period and are used to confirm the trend. Traders and investors will also use moving averages to help to stay with the trend and not exiting a trade too early. 

They can also be used to identify potential turning points, as price turned twice around the 50-period (red) exponential moving average in September and November 2020, as shown in the chart above. 

Finding trading or investing opportunities on stocks, ETFs and other asset classes can also be done automatically by using the Technical Insight Lookup Indicator which is available in the Admiral Markets MetaTrader 5 Supreme Edition platform. 

Stock sectors Technical Insight Lookup indicator

A screenshot showing an example of searching for ‘Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF’ in the Trading Central Technical Insight Lookup indicator in the MetaTrader 5 Supreme Edition platform provided by Admiral Markets.

Users can search for actionable trading ideas on thousands of different instruments. In the above search, it shows all the active technical events on the Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF, at the time of the search. It shows there are 15 technical events covering short-term, intermediate-term and long-term trading opportunities. 

This type of indicator is highly unique and provides a huge edge in analysing the market and identifying potential opportunities. The combination of fundamental analysis on the sectors of the stock market combined with technical analysis can be very powerful. 

Did you know that you can upgrade to the supercharged MetaTrader 5 Supreme Edition platform completely FREE? This means you can access the Technical Insight Lookup Indicator completely free, as well as a variety of other indicators and tools!

Click on the banner below to start your free download today!

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Why trade stock sectors with Admiral Markets?

✔️ Invest with a well-established company authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

✔️ Gain access to the world’s most popular online trading platform MetaTrader for PC, Mac, Web, Android and iOS operating systems, provided for FREE by Admiral Markets.

✔️ Supercharge your trading platform completely FREE by upgrading to the MetaTrader 5 Supreme Edition for actionable trading ideas on thousands of different stocks, ETFs and other asset classes.

✔️ Open an Invest.MT5 investing account to buy stocks, shares and ETFs from 15 of the largest stock exchanges in the world.

✔️ Open a Trade.MT5 trading account to trade via CFDs to potentially profit from rising and falling markets. 

One of the best ways to start is to test all the features and services listed above completely free by opening a demo trading account. This means you can buy and sell in a virtual environment until you are ready to go live!

Click on the banner below to open your demo trading account today!

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About Admiral Markets

Admiral Markets is a multi-award winning, globally regulated Forex and CFD broker, offering trading on over 8,000 financial instruments via the world's most popular trading platforms: MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5. Start trading today!

This material does not contain and should not be construed as containing investment advice, investment recommendations, an offer of or recommendation for any transactions in financial instruments. Please note that such trading analysis is not a reliable indicator for any current or future performance, as circumstances may change over time. Before making any investment decisions, you should seek advice from independent financial advisors to ensure you understand the risks