The Stock-Pickers Market Returns ...

After years of stocks appearing to move in lock-step, could we finally be returning to a “stock-pickers market”? The Wall Street Journal’s Steven Russolillo says the data indicates that may be the case.

“Correlation among the 10 large-cap sectors in the S&P 500 — their tendency to move in unison regardless of their underlying fundamentals — fell to 69.9% last month, the lowest level in two years, according to Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group,” Russolillo recently wrote. “In the prior month, this figure clocked in at 89%.”

The big decline, Russolillo says, “suggests much of the risk-on, risk-off trading that dominated markets over the past few years has diminished, which has put company-specific news more in focus.” Part of the trend involves investors looking more at fundamentals than broader, macro issues in anticipation of the Federal Reserve cutting back on its bond-buying program, Colas told him.

But while many seem excited that correlations have fallen, it’s not necessarily a bullish sign. “Investors might be overly focused on stock picking and have begun to ignore broader influences such as Fed policy, market valuation, European growth trends, economic surprise indices and the like,” Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist at Citigroup, told clients in a recent note, Russolillo says. “Very high readings on intra-stock correlation tend to generate an intriguing buy signal as seen in September 2011, while low levels suggest a degree of complacency that puts fund managers at risk for a correction.”