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What is a Bellwether Stock?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bellwether stock is a stock which tends to lead the sector that it is in, along with the market as a whole. In some parts of the world, these stocks are known as “barometer stocks.” Bellwether stocks tend to be respected blue chip stocks which command a large share of the market, and stock market analysts tend to keep a close eye on them, since they can be indicators of events to come. By being aware of common bellwether stocks, people can make more sound investments based on historical market trends.

The term “bellwether” has its origins in the Middle English word bellewether, which refers to a sheep which leads the rest of the flock, using a bell to attract the attention of the other sheep. Traditionally, the leader sheep was a wether, or castrated ram. Over time, people began to use the term more generally to refer to any sort of leader or indicator. It may interest you to know that in a flock of animals which all wear bells, the bells are often tuned together so that the sound of the flock in motion is pleasing to the ear.

One classic example of a bellwether stock is General Motors in the United States. This stock acts as a bellwether for the automobile industry, but it also influences a number of other markets as well, due the position that it holds. General Motors buys from a wide number of suppliers in a range of industries, for example, so when the company struggles financially, it has a ripple effect.

In turn, General Motors sells to private consumers, other companies, cities, fleets, and so forth, meaning that fluctuations among these buyers can also influence the company's success. Oil prices, for example, might lead to a reduction in the number of General Motors vehicles produced, which would in turn impact the company's suppliers, leading the market to take a downturn. Therefore, fluctuations in the price of General Motors stock might indicate coming financial trends.

Another well known bellwether stock is Intel, a major player in the technology sector. Intel is also considered a blue chip stock, meaning that it is a reliable, sound investment opportunity with the potential for high return. Some market analysts may be heard to say “as goes [bellwether stock], so goes the nation,” in a reference to the huge influence that these companies have on economic health. Others say “what's good for [bellwether stock] is good for the country.”

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Aug 19, 2011

@sunshined - Your comments remind me of the Apple stock. If you had purchased 100 shares of this stock when it was a young company, and never sold any of your shares, you would have a lot of money today.

You can take a risk on a young company or you can wait a few years to see how it performs in the market. Even the stocks that are leaders will go through bellwether cycles from time to time.

As long as you can ride out the down times, and the stock continues to perform good over the long term, you should be able to make a nice profit.

By sunshined — On Aug 19, 2011

I find it interesting to see the change in bellwether technology stocks through the years. Many of these stocks that were leaders years ago, are no longer leaders, and some of them are not even trading at all any more.

Keeping a close eye on the stock market fundamentals, includes knowing which stocks are leaders in their industry. I always think how great it would be if you knew which stocks were going to be bellwether leaders.

You would buy as many shares as you could, as often as you could and would hold on to them as long as possible. Many times by the time a stock is recognized as a bellwether stock, the price is much higher than some people can afford.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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