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5 Things To Ponder: Sell In May and Go Away?

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    May 7, 2014

    There is an old Wall Street axiom that goes “Sell in May and go away, come again after St. Leger’s day.”  Of course, as with all Wall Street axioms, they are viewed by the media to be “valid” only if they work every single year. The reality is that no axiom, investment discipline or strategy works all the time. It is the cumulative effect over long periods of time which defines success or failure.

    In order to provide some context to today’s selected readings, both for and against this particular “Wall Street wisdom,” I am providing some statistical analysis.  The table below, which uses Dr. Robert Shiller’s data, shows the monthly statistical data of returns which I will use for the remainder of this missive.


    Historically, May is the 3rd worst performing month for stocks on yielding an average return of 0.27% and a median return of 0.49%.  The chart below graphically depicts the disparity of monthly average and median returns.


    May, as shown in the above, also represents the beginning of the “seasonally weak”period for stocks.  As the markets roll into the early summer months, May and June tend to be some of weakest months of the year along with September.  This is where the old adage of “Sell In May” is derived from.  Of course, while not every summer period has been a dud, history does show that being invested during summer months is a “hit or miss” bet at best as shown in the next chart of historical returns for May back to 1900.   While May’s monthly average is skewed by sharp deviations in returns during the “Great Depression,” more recent years have been primarily contained, with only a couple of exceptions, within a +/- 5% return band as shown below.


    One last point, as I discussed in “Sell In May Particularly During Mid-Term Election Years:”

    While there are some years that have posted sizable gains during the summer months, such years do not invalidate the long term statistical probabilities. As the table shows above, the average annual return from the summer months is significantly poorer than the fall and winter. To show the impact of that performance differential, I constructed the following chart which shows the growth of $10,000 invested in each of the seasonal periods.


    So, with this context in place let us ponder some different views about whether you should “Sell In May,” or not.

    1) Dow Closed At A 52-Week High On Last Day Of Aprilby Jason Goepfert via Sentimentrader

    “The Dow has closed at a 52-week high on the last day of April seven other times in its history. The next three months showed positive returns two times, negative returns five times, with an overall average return of -1.6%. At its best point during the next three months, it gained a median +1.9%, while at its worst point, it lost a median -3.3%. The years were 1945, 1951, 1954, 1965, 1983, 1995 and 2011.”

    2) Dow At A Record: Time To Sell In May?by Adam Shell via USA Today


    3) Why Investors Expect To “Sell In May” by Trang Ho via Investor’s Business Daily

    “But more important at this point is capital preservation and eventually re-establishing some exposure for the year-end rally, which may turn out to be the last leg of this bull market,” Maierhofer said in an email. “There are some bearish divergences indicative of a slowing trend but not the kind of divergences usually seen right before major market tops.”

    4) 17 Reasons Not To “Sell In May”by Mark Hulbert via WSJ MarketWatch

    “However, and some sectors historically have not adhered to the same seasonal pattern. That’s according to an academic study titled ‘The Halloween Effect in U.S. Sectors,’ written by Ben Jacobsen, a finance professor at Massey University in New Zealand, and Nuttawat Visaltanachoti, a senior lecturer in finance at that institution.

    The industry groupings that stood out the most in their study were food and agriculture, leisure, multimedia, retailing and utilities.

    One option would be to invest in ETFs benchmarked to those five. But another would be to focus on stocks within the sectors that are particularly compelling.”

    5)  Sell In May? Via ZeroHedge

    As FBN’s JC O’Hara explains, the “Sell in May” slogan heard around Wall Street has some truth behind it. The gist of the saying suggests it’s better to be out of the market come May and re-enter during the fall months.


    “We ran the numbers over the last 20 years and found validity to the statement. We created a model that went long the market Jan, Feb, March, April, Oct, Nov & Dec. as well as a second model that went long the market May through Sept 30. We concluded that the May – Sept time period model, on average over the past 20 years, would have lost you money.

    The majority of the time the market was unimpressive over those summer months. The majority of the markets returns were housed in the first model that was long the months into May and the months after Sept. While there were instances where May – Sept was negative, the risk adjusted returns suggests investors do not necessarily need to exit the market but should expect flat markets with little if any of the yearly gains coming during this time period. The real money was made during other 7 months of the year. As we approach May we are not in the SELL camp yet, but rather acknowledge the fact that a volatile, stagnant, sideways moving market is what history implies. Over the next few pages of this report we examine the past 20 years and highlight where the majority of returns are found.”

    The key chart in this analysis was the following which shows the seasonal tendency of market returns during “mid-term election years.”


    As always have a great weekend.  Please continue sending your comments and suggestions via email or tweet me @lanceroberts.

    Images: Flickr (licence attribution)

    About The Author

    Lance Roberts – Host of StreetTalk Live

    After having been in the investing world for more than 25 years from private banking and investment management to private and venture capital; Lance has pretty much “been there and done that” at one point or another. His common sense approach has appealed to audiences for over a decade and continues to grow each and every week.

    Lance is also the Chief Editor of the X-Report, a weekly subscriber based-newsletter that is distributed nationwide. The newsletter covers economic, political and market topics as they relate to the management portfolios. A daily financial blog, audio and video’s also keep members informed of the day’s events and how it impacts your money.

    Lance’s investment strategies and knowledge have been featured on Fox 26, CNBC, Fox Business News and Fox News. He has been quoted by a litany of publications from the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Washington Post all the way to TheStreet.com as well as on several of the nation’s biggest financial blogs such as the Pragmatic Capitalist, Zero Hedge and Seeking Alpha.


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