“Sell in May and Go Away”

Have you ever heard the saying, “sell in May and go away?” Originally dating back hundreds of years in England, and later popularized by The Stock Trader’s Almanac, the idea is that investments tend to perform worse in the summer months.

Thus, one could theoretically avoid the drawdown by selling off their equity holdings and rebuying before the market trends back upward in late Fall. If only it was that simple! 

The concept is not without some merit—historically the best six month period for returns on average has been November through April.

However, this doesn’t mean that this strategy should automatically be adopted every year, especially without taking other factors into consideration.

Does the Market have Seasons?

Financial markets used to be far more impacted by the seasonality of farming and agriculture, which partly explains the past correlation with the down summer months.

These effects have lessened as technology companies have become a much larger driver of markets in recent years. 

While the pattern will certainly hold true in some years (just like with most indicators), it’s definitely not an every year occurrence. Looking at data from 2011 to 2020, there were four years in which the S&P 500 surpassed a 7% return, which could have resulted in a large opportunity cost if applying the sell in May strategy (and there were four additional positive returns, with only two negative periods). 

There can also be large month-to-month fluctuations throughout the year. Take a look at the following graph, which shows that the average percent change by month is actually greatest in July, during the heart of what would be the sell-out period. 

The data illustrates that following this old saying and avoiding stocks for half the year can lead to a lot of potential missed opportunities. 

Related: Market Cycles and Retirement: Sequence of Return Risk in Portfolios

The Nature of Market Volatility

The stock market itself has a natural life cycle that — like life itself — is destined to encounter peaks and valleys.

It’s important to remember that we have been in similar circumstances before; we will be there again; and in between, we will experience more periods of economic and investment prosperity.

At Team WAG, we’ve been working on putting together a helpful resource to help navigate the downs of the market. 

You can download your What to do in a Down Market Guide by entering in your info below and we’ll email you a free copy.

Stick to a Strategy, Not a Saying

Ultimately, it is important to take a more holistic approach to investing, using data that is relevant to the current market environment when making portfolio decisions.

Sticking to a sound investment strategy as part of an overall financial plan, rather than chasing old adages, is most often the best way to achieve your long-term financial goals.

If you feel you need to prepare more for the future or reexamine your existing strategy, I’d love to set up some time to chat. 

We’re happy to work with you either in person, over the phone, or virtually, based on your preference. Give our office a call and we can schedule some time together.