The Stock Market in December

Since 1970 December and April have been the best two months of the year for shares. Since that year the FTSE All-Share Index has risen in December in 74% of all years and the average month return has been 2.1%. In addition, the volatility of December returns is significantly less than any other month.

As can be seen in the accompanying chart the market has only fallen in December in six years since 1984. But two of those negative-return Decembers were very recent: in 2014 and 2015. Which might have led one to wonder if the stellar record of December for shares was ending. However, last year, in 2016, the strength of the market in December reasserted itself when the FTSE All-Share Index rose 4.9% in the month.

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

However, the solid performance of the market in December is only part of a wider trend, namely that from the end of October shares tend to be strong through to the end of the year. This is a result of the Sell in May effect (aka Halloween effect), where equities are relatively strong over the six-month period November – April. So, the market does have a fair following wind at this time of the year, and then in December shares often become super-charged.

The average December

In an average December, shares have in fact tended to be weak in the first couple of weeks of the month, but then around the tenth trading day shares charge upwards. The last two weeks of December is the strongest two-week period of the whole year (and is often referred to as the Santa Rally), and the three days with the highest average daily returns in the year all occur in this two-week period.

Dividends

While December has been a good month for capital gains, it’s the worst month for income investors with only five FTSE 100 companies paying interim or final dividend payments in the month.

Sectors

The FTSE 350 sectors that have tended to be strong in December are: Electronic & Electrical Equipment, Construction & Materials, and Media; while the weak sectors are: Banks, General Retailers, and Fixed Line Telecommunications.

Diary

Dates to watch this month are: 5 Dec ­ FTSE index quarterly reviews announced, 7 Dec – US Nonfarm payroll report, 19 Dec – FOMC announcement on interest rates, 20 Dec – MPC interest rate announcement, 21 Dec – Triple Witching. And note that the London Stock Exchange will close early at 12h30 on the 22nd and will be closed all day on the 25th and 26th.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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The Stock Market in November

Since 1990 the FTSE All-Share Index has seen an average return of 0.7% in the month of November; with positive returns in 15 of the last 27 years. This ranks November in the middle of the 12 months for equity performance. However, in recent years the market has been noticeably weak in November ­in the last 11 years the Index has only seen positive returns in the month in three years.

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

Sell in May…

The significant feature of November is that it marks the start of the strong six-month period of the year (November to April ­ an aspect of the Sell in May effect). In other words, investors should be increasing exposure to the market this month (if they haven’t already done so in October).

Sectors

In the last ten years the FTSE 350 sectors that have performed strongly in November have been: Beverages, Electronic & Electrical Equipment, Fixed Line Telecommunications, Food Producers, Life Insurance, and  Travel & Leisure. While the weak sectors have been: Aerospace & Defense, Banks, Oil & Gas Producers, and Real Estate Investment Trusts.

FOMC announcements

Since 1981 the US Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has had eight scheduled meetings per year, the timing of which is quite irregular. Each meeting is two days long, with a policy statement released at the end of the second day (1 November this month). Many academic papers have studied the effect of these FOMC announcements on financial markets. One such paper found large average excess returns on U.S. equities in the 24-hour period immediately before the announcements (an effect the paper called the “Pre-FOMC Announcement Drift”). According to this paper, “about 80% of annual realized excess stock returns since 1994 are accounted for by the pre-FOMC announcement drift”.

A quite amazing finding!

It might be added that a similar effect can be seen for the UK equity market as well. The average daily return for the UK market in the 24 hours before the FOMC statement is 0.33%, over ten times greater than the average daily return on all other days.

Diary

Besides the FOMC statement other dates to watch for this month are: 2 Nov – MPC interest rate announcement at 12 noon, 3 Nov – US Nonfarm payroll report, and 23 Nov – Thanksgiving Day (US), NYSE closed.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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The Stock Market in October

October has a bad reputation among investors. Partly justified, one might think: in 1987 the FTSE All-Share Index fell 27% in the one month of October, and then in 2008 the index fell 12% in the month. However, a glance at the accompanying chart tells a different story. In the 27 years since 1970, the UK stock market has only seen negative returns in October in six years – a record second only to December. And in recent years equities have remained strong in October, only falling in one year since 2010.

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

But, while average equity market returns in October may be better than thought, the month does have a deserved reputation for volatility. Only September can challenge it for share price fluctuations.

Sell in May/Halloween effects

The strength of equities in October may not be unconnected with the fact that the strong six-month period of the year starts at the end of October (part of the Sell in May effect) and investors may be anticipating this by increasing their weighting in equities during October. The last day of the month also tends to be strong, in fact it has the best record of any month’s last trading day – which, again, may be related to the Sell in May effect.

But while October, therefore, should be regarded as a good month for shares, any occasional weakness in the month can be severe.

The average October

In an average month for October the market tends to rise in the first two weeks, then to fall back, before a surge in prices in the last few days of the month (Sell in May effect ­ aka Halloween effect ­ again!)

Shares

In the last ten years, shares that have the strongest record in October are: Diageo [DGE], Tate & Lyle [TATE], and Whitbread[WTB]. Especially strong has been Diageo, which has seen positive returns in October in every year since 2006, with an average return in the month of 3.1%. By contrast, weak shares in October over the last ten years have been: Marshalls [MSLH], William Hill [WMH], and UDG Healthcare [UDG].

Large v mid caps

The month is one of only two months (the other is September) that FTSE 100 stocks tend to out-perform the mid-cap FTSE 250 stocks – since 1986 the FTSE 100 Index has on average out-performed the FTSE 250 Index by 0.7 percentage points in October.

Diary

Dates to watch out for this month are: 6 Oct – US Nonfarm payroll report, and 31 Oct the two-day FOMC meeting starts.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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The Stock Market in September

September has not been a good month for investors. Since 1990 the average return of the FTSE All-Share Index in September has been -1.2%; the worst return of any month in the year.

However, although the average return is bad in the month, over the longer-term about half of all Septembers actually have positive returns. And, in the last 13 years, the market has only fallen in September in four years.

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

The problem is that when the market does fall in this month, the falls can be very large. For example, as can be seen in the accompanying chart, the FTSE All-Share Index has declined over 8% in three years since 2000. So, the big problem for investors in September is volatility – share price volatility is at its highest annual point in September.

Large caps v mid caps

The situation is even worse for mid-cap stocks. Since 1986, on average the FTSE 250 Index under-performs the FTSE 100 Index by 0.7 percentage points in September – making September, along with October, the worst months for mid-cap stocks relative to the large-caps

Average month

In an average month for September the market tends to gently drift lower for the first three weeks before rebounding slightly in the final week – although the final trading day (FTD) of the month has historically been one of the weakest FTDs of all months in the year.

Gold

In contrast to equities, gold tends to be strong in September: since 1968 the average gold price return in the month has been 1.8%, making September the strongest month of the year for gold. Recently, since 2000, gold’s September has been even higher at 2.3%. It should be noted that silver has also been historically strong in September.

Sectors

On the sector front, September tends to be good for Electricity stocks, Food & Drug Retailers, Mobile Telecommunications, Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology, and relatively bad for Aerospace & Defense, Chemicals, Electronic & Electrical Equipment, General Retailers, Media, Technology Hardware & Equipment.

Diary

In the diary this month are: the US Nonfarm payroll report on the 1st, the NYSE closed on the 4th (Labor Day), ECB Governing Council Meeting on the 7th, MPC interest rate announcement on the 14th, and it’s Triple Witching on the 15th.

Sell in May…

Saturday 16th September will see horse racing at Doncaster – the St Leger Stakes. Of note for those investors who adhere to the adage “sell in May, go away and don’t come back till St Legers day”.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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The Stock Market in August

Since 2011 the UK equity market has displayed a rather odd behavior in August: alternating mildly positive returns for the month in even years, with large negative returns in odd years. In the event that this pattern continues then we are due a large fall in the market this year in August. Besides that odd pattern, as can be seen in the chart, apart from the anomalous years of 2008 and 2009, since 2000 even when the market does rise in August, the returns are small.

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

The average August

From 1970 the average return for August of the FTSE All-Share index has been 0.7%, with 62% of years seeing a positive return in the month. But since 2000 the performance has declined and the average return has fallen to zero. As a result, August now ranks ninth of all months of the year

Stocks

Over the last ten years the FTSE 350 stocks that have tended to perform well in August have been: Fisher (James) & Sons [FSJ], Petrofac [PFC], and Synthomer [SYNT]. Those first two stocks have seen positive returns in August in nine of the past ten years. By contrast, the FTSE 350 stocks that have tended to perform poorly in the month are: Standard Chartered [STAN], Rio Tinto [RIO], and Vedanta Resources [VED]. Rio Tinto has fallen in every August since 2007.

Diary

Significant dates this month are: the MPC interest rate announcement on the 3rd, US Nonfarm payroll report on the 4th, the MSCI quarterly index review announcement on the 10th, and the LSE is closed on the 28th (Summer bank holiday). The result of the quarterly FTSE index review (including changes for the FTSE 100 and 250 indices) will be announced on the 31st.

Solar eclipse

And on the 21st the US will experience a total eclipse. This is a big event as the last total eclipse observable in the continental US was in 1979 (when, in fact, the weather was not the best). And the last solar eclipse whose path of totality moved from coast to coast (as it will in 2017) was back in 1918. And investors should be interested in this because? Well, spooky things happen around eclipses.

On average in the 15 total solar eclipses that have been visible from the United States since 1900, the Dow Jones Index tends to weak on the day before the eclipse, and on the day itself, but then prices bounce back on the day after.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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The Stock Market in July

After traditional weakness in June, share prices often bounce back in July – making this month a short period of strength in an otherwise weak 6-month period (May to October).

Since 1970 the FTSE All-Share Index has seen an average return of 0.8% in July, with 53% of years seeing positive returns in this month. This makes July the fifth strongest month of the year for shares. As can be seen in the accompanying chart, in recent years the market has been stronger than its longer-term performance. In the last eight years the market has only seen falls in July twice, and the average return in July has been 3.3%. So currently July is on a roll.

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

The average July

In an average July the start of the month tends to be strong ­ the first week of the month is among the top ten strongest weeks in the year. After that, the market has a tendency to drift lower for a couple of weeks until finishing strongly in the final week of the month.

Large caps v mid-caps

July is one of only three months (the others being September and October) where the FTSE 100 tends to out-perform the mid-cap FTSE 250, although the out-performance in July is not significantly large (an average of 0.2 percentage points since 1986). Better is the performance of the FTSE 100 relative to the S&P 500, in sterling terms July is the second-best month for the FTSE 100 (the UK index has out-performed the US index by an average of 1.0 percentage points since 1984).

Sectors

Historically the sectors that have been strong in July are Chemicals, Personal Goods and Real Estate Investment Trusts while weak sectors have been Gas, Water & Multiutilities, Support Services and Beverages.

Shares

On the shares front, companies that have seen strong share performance in July have been: Elementis [ELM], Croda International [CRDA], and Barclays [BARC] – all three shares have seen positive returns in July in nine of the past ten years. Companies that have historically performed weakly in July are: Halma [HLMA], Babcock International [BAB], and Redefine International [RDI].

Diary

July is a busy month for companies announcing their interim results: 28 FTSE 100 companies will be doing so and 47 FTSE 250 companies.

On the economics front: there is the US Nonfarm payroll report on the 7th, and the two-day FOMC meeting starts on the 25th. The New York Stock Exchange will be closed on 4th July.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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The Stock Market in June

June is not usually a good month for investors. The accompanying chart shows the month returns for June of the FTSE All-Share Index from 1984. One can easily see the market falls more often than it rises in June, and when the market does decline the falls can be quite large, whereas the positive returns are usually only modest.

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

Putting some numbers to this, in the 47 years since 1970 the market has seen positive returns in June 21 times (45%), with an average month return of -1.0%. In recent years the record is even worse. In the 17 years since 2000 the market has seen positive returns in June just 7 times (41%), with an average month return of -1.6%. Last year saw an unusually positive return in June when the market rose 2.5% (over the turbulent time of the EU referendum).

Not surprisingly June has the second worst record for equity returns of all month. And the May-June period has been the weakest two-month period in the year for the market.

The average June

In an average June the market starts strong, hitting its month high on the second or third trading day, but prices then drift down steadily for the rest of the month, although the market ends the month on a positive note – the last trading day is the second strongest in the year.

Sectors

It’s not all gloom in June however, three sectors have gone against the trend and seen consistent strength in the month: Beverages, Oil & Gas Producers and Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology.

Stocks

FTSE 350 stocks that have also tended to be strong in June are: RPC Group [RPC], NCC Group [NCC], and BTG [BTG]. While stocks that have a track record in the month are Barclays [BARC] and Travis Perkins [TPK]. Barclays has a quite shocking record of performance in June – the worst of any FTSE 350 stock. In the last four years in June Barclays shares have fallen -13%, -14%, -4%, and -24% respectively. In the ten years since 2007 the average return of Barclays shares in June has been -11.1%.

Company results

Not much action on the results front this month, June is the quietest month for results from FTSE 100 companies – just two companies making announcements this month.

Diary

This is quite a busy month on the economics front: there is the US Nonfarm payroll report on the 2nd, ECB Governing Council Meeting on the 8th, FOMC interest rate announcement on the 14th, the MPC interest rate announcement on the 15th, and Triple Witching on the 16th.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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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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The Stock Market in April

Historically, April has been one of the best months for equities. Since 1970 the average return for the FTSE All-Share Index in the month has been 2.6%, with positive returns seen in 83% of Aprils in the last 47 years. This is the best record, by quite a margin, for any month in the year. And the strong performance has continued in recent years. Since 2000 the average month return for the index has been 2.0% and, as can be seen in the accompanying chart, the market has only fallen in April in five years since 2000.

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

The average April

The market often gets off to a strong start in the month – the first trading day of April is the second strongest first trading day of all months in the year. The market then tends to be fairly flat for the middle two weeks and then rising strongly in the final week.

Investors need to make the most of April. After this month the market enters a six-month period when equities have tended to tread water (the Sell in May effect).

Sectors

The FTSE 350 sectors that tend to be strong in April are: Electronic & Electrical Equipment, Industrial Engineering, and Personal Goods; while the weaker sectors are Household Goods, Mining, Mobile Telecommunications, and Software & Computer Services.

Stocks

At the stock level, the four FTSE 350 with the best Aril returns over the past ten years are: JD Sports Fashion [JD.], Ashmore Group [ASHM], Aberdeen Asset Management [ADN], and Temple Bar Investment Trust. The shares of all four of these companies have risen every year in April since 2007. The FTSE 350 stocks with the weakest record in April have been: Balfour Beatty [BBY], RELX [REL], and BAE Systems [BA.].

FTSE 100 v S&P 500

This is the strongest month for the FTSE 100 relative to the S&P 500 (in sterling terms), the former out-performs the latter by an average of 1.3 percentage points in April ­ the UK index has out-performed the US index (in sterling terms) in April in 13 of the past 15 years.

Holiday Effect

It’s Easter on the 16th so the LSE will be closed on the 14th (Good Friday) and 17th (Easter Monday). A famous anomaly in stock markets is that prices tend to be strong on the day preceding and the day following a holiday. This effect is strongest in the year around the Easter holiday.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

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The Stock Market in March

What can we expect from shares as move into spring? Well, since 1984 the market has had an average return of 0.5% in March, with returns positive in 55% of all years. This ranks March seventh among months of the year for market performance. Although as can be seen in the accompanying chart, negative returns have been seen in March with increasing frequency in recent years.

Average month chart for March [1985-2016]

The general trend for the market in March is to rise for the first three weeks and then fall back in the final week – the last week of March has historically been one of the weakest weeks for the market in the whole year.

Large cap v small cap stocks

Generally, small cap stocks outperform large cap stocks at the beginning of the year, and March marks the final month of the three-month period when the FTSE 250 strongly out-performs the FTSE 100. In March on average the FTSE 250 has out-performed the FTSE 100 by 0.9 percentage points.

Sectors

The sectors that tend to be strong in March are: Aerospace & Defense, Financial Services, General Retailers, Industrial Engineering, and Oil & Gas Producers, Oil Equipment. While weak sectors have been: Gas, Water & Multiutilities, Health Care Equipment & Services, and Nonlife Insurance.

Stocks

While, for stocks, the FTSE 350 shares that have performed the best over the last ten years in March are: Clarkson [CKN], Petrofac Ltd [PFC], and Intertek Group [ITRK], while the weakest shares have been Vectura Group [VEC], Renishaw [RSW], and Lancashire Holdings Ltd [LRE].

March is the busiest month of the year for FTSE 100 companies paying dividends. And it’s also a busy month for company announcements: the busiest for FTSE 250 companies in the year with 71 companies announcing their prelims this month (along with 24 FTSE 100 companies).

Aside from stocks, March has often been a weak month for gold and a strong month for oil.

The results of the quarterly FTSE 100 index review will be announced on the 1st; at the time of writing Capita and Dixons Carphone look candidates to be booted out, replaced by Scottish Mortgage IT and Weir Group.

Diary

Elsewhere on the diary front we have: 3rd – Nonfarm payroll report, 14th – Two-day FOMC meeting starts, 15th – Chancellor’s Budget, 16th – MPC interest rate announcement, 17th – Triple Witching, 20th – FTSE Index series quarterly changes effective, 26th – Daylight Saving Time starts.


Article first appeared in Money Observer

Further articles on the market in March.

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