Shortly before 2 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones
The key reason
The biggest reason for the Nasdaq's recent outperformance centers on one key company: Apple
Apple's year-to-date return of 55.9% explains about 9 percentage points -- or nearly all of the Nasdaq's outperformance. As Foolish colleague Dan Dzombak notes, if the Dow had added Apple instead of Cisco back when it replaced GM in June 2009, the Dow would be approaching 15,000 right now, rather than battling to stay above 13,000.
Oh, and about that divergence between the Dow and Nasdaq today? Apple is up 1.18% so far today, so that alone explains a third of the Nasdaq's outperformance.
Another reason the Dow's lagging behind
Beyond Apple's absence from the Dow, there's another reason the index is trailing this year: The Dow's top performers hold little weight in the index. The top three performing Dow stocks this year -- Bank of America
The point? The Dow's big winners don't have much effect on the index. If every company in the Dow held an equal amount of weighting, the Dow would have returned 11.2% during the first quarter instead of the 8.1% it notched with its current price-weighted methodology.
So there you have it: The Dow's underweighting of certain outperforming companies and Apple's amazing run have conspired to hold the indexes returns down. In the end, that's why you're best off looking at multiple indexes beyond the Dow, like the S&P 500, to get a feel for how the market's doing at any given day.
Keep searching for global opportunities
If you're looking for the reason why companies like Apple are outperforming, there's actually a very simple answer. In the past decade, emerging-market consumer spending grew 250%, leaving the growth rates of the U.S. and Europe in the dust. Apple's second-largest market is actually now China, while Brazil is the third-largest PC market in the world. If you're an investor scouring the globe for opportunities, look no further than our new report: "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World." In it, Fool analysts select three companies with international growth opportunities that are simply stunning. The report is free, but won't be available forever, so get your copy by clicking here today!