The Stock Market in May

Sell in May?

One of the most famous adages in the stock market is “sell in May”. And often this can be good advice. However, look at the accompanying chart ­ you can see that the UK equity market has actually had positive returns in May for the past four years! Admittedly, last year the FTSE All-Share Index saw a rise of only 0.2%, but that’s still a positive return.

Monthly returns of FTSE All Share Index - May (1984-2016)

In fact, since 1984 the market in May has seen roughly an equal proportion of positive and negative month returns (the proportion of years with positive returns in May is 51%).

So, why does May have a bad reputation for shares, and why is the saying “sell in May” so popular?

One reason can be seen in the chart. Although the proportion of positive and negative month returns in May are roughly equal, it can be seen that the positive returns in May are relatively small, whereas when the market falls in May it can suffer quite a large sell-off. Since 1970 the average market return in May has been -0.5%, which is the third worst record of all months.

The other reason why investors should take note of “sell in May” is that, longer-term, May marks the start of the under-performing half of the year (May through to October); a period over which share performance can tend to be lacklustre.

The average May

In an average May the market trades fairly flat for the first two weeks of the month, and then prices drift lower in the second half.

FTSE 100 v S&P 500

There are some months that the UK market fairly consistently outperforms the US market. May isn’t one of them. In fact, May is the weakest month of the year for the FTSE 100 Index relative to the S&P 500 Index; on average the UK index under-performs the US by 1.3 percentage points in May.

Diary

Coming up in May we have the May Day bank holiday on the 1st (LSE closed), the two-day FOMC meeting starting on the 2nd, US Nonfarm payroll report on the 5th, MPC interest rate announcement on the 11th, and Spring bank holiday on the 29th (LSE and NYSE closed).

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