COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health

Yes, the Stock Market Just Went Into Free Fall—It’s Not the Metric You Should Worry About.

February 6, 2018, 7:51 PM UTC

Yesterday’s historic stock sell-off had many people wondering if the great bull market had at long last sputtered to an end. Over the past (nearly) nine years, the S&P 500 stock index rose some 325% from its bottom (March 9, 2009) to its top (January 26, 2018)—before beginning its recent heart-pounding swoon.

Then came the free fall—a collapse that sucked out 8.6% of the broad market’s value in a 10-day gasp (as of the writing of this note). I have yet to find a really good stock index for the pubic companies leading the digital health revolution, but for comparison’s sake, my ever-resourceful colleague Scott DeCarlo alit upon the S&P 1500 Supercomposite Health Care Technology Index—which includes an assortment of medtech companies valued between $400 million and $21 billion—and which dropped 8.5% over the same period. That suggests the carnage hit healthcare just as it did most everything else.

So is this the end? Well, from a technical standpoint, we still have a ways to go before this bear turn qualifies as a “correction.” But the broader question in my mind is, Are we measuring the right bull to begin with?

I would argue that the horned creature that matters most is the investment bull—no, not the public’s piling money (often without much thought) into corporate stocks, but rather the companies themselves investing in their own growth: generating new businesses, doubling down on R&D, fostering their home-grown talent, and making smart, strategic investments in technology.

And here, I’m still pretty optimistic. This fall PwC released a report showing that, in the past year, the top 1,000 R&D spenders worldwide spent more than $700 billion on their in-house research efforts for the first time, a total figure that was up 3% from the 2016 level. (The No. 1 spender? Amazon, not surprisingly.) At Fortune, a few months back, we highlighted 50 companies (including Amazon) that have that same driving spirit to invest in the future. We call the list our “Future 50,” fittingly. And I hope you’ll check it out here.

That tells me that, despite the recent downturn in stocks, the market for innovation is still running strong. Hopefully, corporate leaders won’t let the wrong market metrics shift their focus from what really matters.

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.