As the calendar has turned to May, the popular “Sell in May and Go Away” stock market cliché is getting a lot of airtime. This is the idea that the stock market tends to be weakest between May and October (and strongest between November and April). Stocks have done so well recently that anticipating a pause in the rally makes sense. A lot of good news is priced into stocks. Worries about the Federal Reserve tightening its monetary policy may intensify this summer as inflation picks up, potentially pushing interest rates higher. Tax increases are probably coming in 2022, and deficit spending continues largely unabated.
Investors have not been well served recently by following the “Sell in May” pattern and avoiding stocks from May through October. Over the past decade, during that six-month period the S&P 500 Index was higher eight out of 10 times, with an average gain of 3.8%. Going back to 1950, even though the May-through-October period has been the weakest, stocks have gained 1.7% on average and have been higher 65% of the time—hardly a disaster worth avoiding.
The U.S. economy continues to storm back from the pandemic lockdown-driven recession. After growing at a solid 6.4% annualized pace during the first quarter of 2021, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) is just a small fraction away from recovering all of its lost output from 2020. Economists’ consensus forecast for U.S. economic growth of 8.1% in the second quarter of 2021 (source: Bloomberg) may be too low given the additional progress toward a fully reopened economy and continued steady vaccine distribution. With more fiscal stimulus likely coming soon, GDP growth in 2021 may be the strongest in four decades, hardly supportive of a bearish view.
First-quarter earnings season has been a record setter. The percentage of S&P 500 companies beating earnings per share targets (88%) and upside to revenue targets (over 4%) are both the highest that earnings data aggregator FactSet has ever recorded. The year-over-year increase in S&P 500 Index earnings will likely double—yes double—the 24% estimate as of April 1—one of the biggest earnings upside surprises ever.
The strong earnings growth has allowed stocks to grow into their valuations. In fact, stock valuations remain quite reasonable compared with bonds given still-low interest rates, suggesting a “Sell in May” decision based on elevated stock valuations may be a mistake. This fundamental backdrop suggests any market selloffs may be shallow and short-lived, and therefore difficult to time.
Near-term volatility is considered ‘normal’ and can be expected at any time within financial markets. Volatility is part of the path toward long-term investment returns.
We hope you enjoy the changing weather and the new opportunities that come with the promise of Spring. Please contact us if you have any questions.
This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that the views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change.
References to markets, asset classes, and sectors are generally regarding the corresponding market index. Indexes are unmanaged statistical composites and cannot be invested into directly. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment and do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.
All data is provided as of May 1, 2021.
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All index data from FactSet.
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