Relative Strength: Explained, Examples, and Benefits


Relative strength is a strategy used in momentum investing that focuses on selecting investments that have outperformed their market or benchmark. This article delves into the concept of relative strength, its applications, and how investors use it to make informed decisions. Learn about the relative strength index (RSI), real-world examples, and the benefits and drawbacks of this approach in personal finance.

What is relative strength?

Relative strength is a powerful strategy employed in momentum investing and the identification of value stocks. It revolves around the concept of investing in assets that have shown strong performance compared to the broader market or a relevant benchmark. For instance, a relative strength investor may choose technology companies that have outperformed the Nasdaq Composite Index or stocks that are outshining the S&P 500 index.

Understanding the concept

While traditional value investing aims to buy low and sell high, relative strength investing adopts a different approach, seeking to buy high and sell even higher. Investors who utilize relative strength believe that the current trend of outperformance will persist, allowing them to realize positive returns. However, any abrupt reversal of this trend can lead to negative results.

Relative strength investors typically begin by comparing their chosen benchmark, like the Nasdaq Composite Index, with companies within that market. They identify assets that have either risen faster than their peers or fallen more slowly. The underlying assumption is that ongoing trends will persist, making this strategy most effective during stable periods with minimal disruptions.

Applying relative strength

While relative strength is often associated with individual stocks, it can be applied to entire markets or industry sectors using index funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Investors can also make relative strength investments in various asset classes, including real estate through real estate investment trusts (REITs) and even more exotic instruments like commodity futures and options.

It’s worth noting that relative strength investing can also be integrated into broader strategies, such as pairs trading, to enhance returns and manage risks effectively.

Real-world example of relative strength

Let’s consider a real-world scenario to better grasp the concept of relative strength. Meet Harry, a savvy investor who closely monitors corporate bond prices and the S&P 500. Harry’s investment portfolio consists of an S&P 500 index fund and an ETF tracking the corporate bond market. As a relative strength investor, he periodically adjusts his allocation towards the asset that is outperforming at that time.

In recent months, Harry has observed a significant inflow of funds into the bond market at the expense of stocks. This surge in bond investments has driven up bond prices and lowered yields. Anticipating this trend to persist, Harry reduces his investment in the S&P 500 and increases his exposure to the corporate bond ETF. His objective is to benefit from the ongoing outperformance of bonds in comparison to stocks.

Relative strength index (RSI)

Short-term and technical traders often rely on the relative strength index (RSI) as a key tool in their analysis. The RSI is a momentum indicator used to assess overbought or oversold conditions in the price of a stock or asset. It’s displayed as an oscillator with readings ranging from 0 to 100.

The RSI, originally introduced by J. Welles Wilder Jr. in 1978, helps traders identify potential trend reversals. Values of 70 or above on the RSI typically indicate that a security may be overbought or overvalued, potentially leading to a corrective pullback. On the other hand, an RSI reading of 30 or below suggests an oversold condition, which may indicate a potential buying opportunity.

Pros and cons relative strength

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Potential for higher returns by riding strong trends
  • Effective in stable market conditions
  • Can be applied to various asset classes
  • Assumes that present trends will continue, which may not always be the case
  • Can be risky during volatile or disruptive market periods
  • Requires careful monitoring and timely adjustments

Applications of relative strength in the stock market

Relative strength is not limited to individual stock selection; it can also be applied to broader market trends and industry sectors. This approach can be particularly useful for investors seeking to outperform the market as a whole. Here are some examples of how relative strength can be applied:

1. Market timing

Investors can use relative strength to gauge the overall health of the stock market and make informed decisions about when to enter or exit the market. For instance, if relative strength analysis indicates that certain sectors are consistently outperforming the broader market, it may be a sign that the market is in an uptrend. On the other hand, persistent underperformance in specific sectors might suggest a bearish trend.

2. Sector rotation

Relative strength can guide investors in rotating their portfolios between different industry sectors. By identifying sectors that exhibit strong relative performance, investors can allocate more of their investments to those sectors. This proactive approach allows investors to capitalize on sectors that are currently thriving while minimizing exposure to underperforming sectors.

The role of relative strength in risk management

Effective risk management is a crucial aspect of any investment strategy, and relative strength can play a role in this area as well. Here are some ways in which it can contribute to risk management:

3. Stop-loss strategies

Investors who employ relative strength can use it to determine appropriate stop-loss levels. When an investment starts underperforming relative to its benchmark or the market as a whole, it can trigger a predefined exit point. This approach helps investors limit potential losses and protect their capital.

4. Portfolio diversification

Relative strength can also assist in portfolio diversification. By assessing the performance of different asset classes, investors can make informed decisions about how to allocate their investments to reduce risk. Diversification across asset classes can help mitigate the impact of market volatility.

Real-world example of relative strength in action

Consider Jane, an astute investor who applies relative strength principles to her investment strategy. She focuses on the technology sector and identifies two companies: TechCo and Innovate Inc. Both companies have been outperforming the Nasdaq Composite Index for the past year.

However, Jane recognizes that relative strength doesn’t guarantee future success. She closely monitors both companies for any signs of weakness or a trend reversal. If TechCo’s performance starts to lag behind Innovate Inc. or the market as a whole, she may consider reallocating her investment to favor Innovate Inc. as it maintains its relative strength.


Relative strength is a strategy that empowers investors to capitalize on trends of outperformance in the financial markets. By selecting assets that have consistently beaten their market or benchmark, investors aim to ride the wave of strong performance. However, it’s essential to remember that this strategy is not without its risks, and it requires careful monitoring and timely adjustments to be successful.

Whether you’re a short-term trader or a long-term investor, understanding relative strength and the tools like the Relative Strength Index can be valuable in making informed financial decisions. It’s a strategy that, when applied thoughtfully and with an awareness of market conditions, can potentially lead to attractive returns.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between relative strength and absolute strength in investing?

Relative strength focuses on comparing an asset’s performance to a benchmark or the broader market. Absolute strength, on the other hand, evaluates an asset’s performance on its own merits without comparing it to any benchmark.

Is relative strength investing suitable for long-term investors?

While relative strength is often associated with short-term trading, long-term investors can also benefit from this strategy. It can help identify assets with strong, sustained performance over extended periods.

What are the key drawbacks of relative strength investing?

The main drawbacks include the assumption that present trends will continue, making it risky during volatile market periods. It also requires vigilant monitoring and timely adjustments, which may not suit all investors.

Can relative strength be applied to other asset classes beyond stocks?

Yes, relative strength can be applied to various asset classes, including real estate, commodities, and even options. It’s a versatile strategy that can help investors make informed decisions across different financial instruments.

How can I use the Relative Strength Index (RSI) effectively in my investment analysis?

To use RSI effectively, consider values above 70 as potential overbought conditions and values below 30 as potential oversold conditions. Combine RSI with other technical and fundamental analysis tools for a more comprehensive investment analysis.

Key takeaways

  • Relative strength involves investing in assets that have outperformed their market or benchmark.
  • Investors assume that the outperformance trend will persist, aiming to buy high and sell even higher.
  • The Relative Strength Index (RSI) is a key tool for evaluating overbought or oversold conditions in the market.
  • While effective in stable conditions, relative strength investing can be risky during market disruptions.
  • It can be applied to various asset classes and integrated into larger investment strategies.
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  2. What Is the Relative Strength Index (RSI)? | Britannica Money – Britannica
  3. Money Flow Index (MFI): Definition, Calculations, and Pros … – SuperMoney