Well that got ugly quick. For the record, if you have been in the markets for any length of time you have seen this kind of action plenty of times. An index, or stock, or commodity or whatever, trends and trends and trend steadily and relentlessly higher over a period of time. And just when it seems like its going to last forever – BAM. It gives back all or much of its recent rally gains very quickly. Welcome to the exciting world of investing.
I make no claims of “calling the top” – because I never have actually (correctly) called one and I don’t expect that I ever will. But having written Part I and Part IIof articles titled “Please Take a Moment to Locate the Nearest Exit” in the last week, I was probably one of the least surprised people at what transpired in the stock market in the last few sessions.
Of course the question on everyone’s lips – as always in this type of panic or near panic situation – is, “where to from here?” And folks if I knew the answer, I swear I would tell you. But like everyone else, I can only assess the situation, formulate a plan of action – or inaction, as the case may be – and act accordingly. But some random thoughts:
*Long periods of relative calm followed by extreme drops are more often than not followed by periods of volatility. So, look for a sharp rebound for at least a few days followed by another downdraft and so on and so forth, until either:
a) The market bottoms out and resumes an uptrend
b) The major indexes (think Dow, S&P 500, Nasdaq 100, Russell 2000) drop below their 200-day moving averages. As of the close on 2/25 both the Dow and the Russell 2000 were below their 200-day moving average. That would set up another a) or b) scenario.
If the major indexes break below their long-term moving averages it will either:
a) End up being a whipsaw – i.e., the market reverses quickly to the upside
b) Or will be a sign of more serious trouble
The main point is that you should be paying close attention in the days and weeks ahead to the indexes in Figure 1.
One reason for potential optimism is that the two-month period of March and April has historically been one of the more favorable two-month periods on an annual basis. Figure 2 displays the cumulative price gain achieved by the S&P 500 Index ONLY during March and April every year since 1945. The long-term trend is unmistakable, but year-to-year results can of course, vary greatly.
Figure 2 – S&P 500 cumulative price gain March-April ONLY (1945-2019)
Disclaimer: The information, opinions and ideas expressed herein are for informational and educational purposes only and are based on research conducted and presented solely by the author. The information presented does not represent the views of the author only and does not constitute a complete description of any investment service. In addition, nothing presented herein should be construed as investment advice, as an advertisement or offering of investment advisory services, or as an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any security. The data presented herein were obtained from various third-party sources. While the data is believed to be reliable, no representation is made as to, and no responsibility, warranty or liability is accepted for the accuracy or completeness of such information. International investments are subject to additional risks such as currency fluctuations, political instability and the potential for illiquid markets. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is risk of loss in all trading. Back tested performance does not represent actual performance and should not be interpreted as an indication of such performance. Also, back tested performance results have certain inherent limitations and differs from actual performance because it is achieved with the benefit of hindsight.
I’ve been seeing a number of panicked missives lately regarding the retailing sector. They typically go something like this:
“Despite new highs for most of the major market indexes, the retailing sector has been struggling – and in some cases hit hard – therefore it is clearly (paraphrasing here) THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, AHHHHHHHHHHHHH……………………..”
Or something along those lines. And the truth is that they may be right. But as it turns out, with the retailing sector it is typically more a question of “when” and not “what” (or even WTF
The concerns alluded to above are understandable given recent results in certain segments of the retailing sector. Figure 1 displays the stock price action for four major retailers. It isn’t pretty.
So if major retailers are performing poorly one can certainly see why someone might extrapolate this to conclude that the economy is not firing on all cylinders and that the recent rally to new highs by the major averages is just a mirage. And again, that opinion may ultimately prove to be correct this time around.
But before swearing off of retailing stocks, consider the following.
Retailers – When not What
For our test we will use monthly total return data for the Fidelity Select Retailing sector fund (ticker FSRPX). Figure 2 displays the growth of $1,000 invested in FSRPX only during the months of:
*February, March, April, May, November, December
Figure 2 – Growth of $1,000 invested in ticker FSRPX only during the “favorable” months since 1986
For the record:
*An initial $1,000 grew to $50,274, or +4,927% (this test does not include any interest earned during the months out of FSRPX).
*# of years showing a net gain = 27
*# of years showing a net loss = 4
*Average UP year = +17.0%
*Average DOWN year = (-3.4%)
*Maximum UP Year = +50.0% (1990)
*Maximum DOWN Year = (-5.9%) (1994)
The Year-by-Year Results appear in Figure 3
Figure 3 – Year-by-Year Results for “Favorable” Months since 1986
The Rest of the Year
If for some reason you had decided to skip the months above and hold FSRPX only during all of the other months of the year, your results appear in Figure 4.
Figure 4 – Growth of $1,000 invested in ticker FSRPX only during the “unfavorable” months since 1986
For the record:
*An initial $1,000 grew to $1,037, or +3.7% (this test does not include any interest earned during the months out of FSRPX).
Is the retailing sector guaranteed to generate a gain during our “favorable” months in 2017? Not at all. Still, given that retailing is presently beaten down a bit and the fact that the worst full year loss during the favorable months was -5.9%, it may be time to think about taking a look (although – as always, and for the record – I am not “recommending” retailing stocks, only pointing out the historical trends).
Still, as the old saying goes, the results below are what we “quantitative types” refer to as “statistically significant”.
If you follow jay Kaeppel’s posts in this blog, you’ll know that he’s the master of research on all things seasonal. This past week he posted a seasonal article on energy using FSESX – Fidelity Select Energy Services. Previously he had noted the bullish tendency for ticker FSESX during the months of February, March and April. In his follow up piece, he added one more “favorable” month and then also looked at a 6-month “unfavorable” period. The article is included at the end of this post so you can see the results.As Mutual funds are not for everyone, we went in search of alternative tickers that could closely match FSESX in performance characteristics. Using WinWay Matchmaker we compared the price action of FSESX against our universe of stocks and ETFs looking for a match.
Matchmaker uses Spearman Rank Correlation analysis to identify a close match to FSESX. The closer the result to 1000, the higher the correlation. Anything over 950 is a very close match. Here’s the results.
Figure 1. MatchMaker correlation for last 4 years – FSESX vs stocks and ETFs
The ETF IEZ – iShares Oil and Equipment & Services showed a very high correlation over the 4 years we tested. OIH – Oil Service Holders, another ETF, also showed high correlation.
Here’s a WinWay overlay chart of recent daily price action comparing FSESX vs IEZ.
Figure 2. Recent daily price action comparing FSESX vs IEZ.
IEZ appears to be a good surrogate for FSESX at least over the last 4 years.
We also wanted a visual of the seasonal pattern in action. Fortunately we have a tool still in development at WinWay that’s just right for this. Basically it provides a price comparison of ‘x’ numbers of years of the same ticker overlaid on each other.
Here’s 3 of the last 4 years on IEZ, the average of the years displayed is in black. We highlighted the Feb, Mar, Apr and Dec in yellow. We could have included more years but for illustration purposes it was easier to show the 3 years (the chart gets busy with too many lines on it!)
Figure 3 – IEZ seasonal chart (beta) for 3 years with average.
The Feb, Mar, Apr period has a definite bullish tendency, the Dec period does Ok too. You’ll notice the tendency for IEZ to fall sharply in January. Conclusion? IEZ is a reasonable surrogate for FSESX if you’re contemplating this seasonal move.
If you are looking for a market sector with some serious seasonal trends, look no further than the energy sector. Previously I had noted the bullish tendency for ticker FSESX during the months of February, March and April. In this piece, we will add one more “favorable” month and then also look at a 6-month “unfavorable” period.
For the record, the information that follows is not being recommended as a standalone strategy. It is presented simply to make you aware of certain long-term trends that have been very persistently bullish (or bearish as the case may be) in the energy sector.
4 Favorable Months
*The four “favorable” months for our test are February, March, April and December
Figure 1 displays the growth of $1,000 invested in ticker FSESX only during these four months every year since 1986 versus simply buying-and-holding ticker FSESX.
Figure 1 – Growth of $1,000 invested in FSESX only during Feb, Mar, Apr, Dec every year since 1986
Starting in 1986, an initial $1,000 investment grew to $76,019 (or +7,500%) versus $10,237 (or 923%) using a buy-and-hold strategy.
6 Unfavorable Months
The six “Unfavorable” months are June, July, August, September, October and November.
First the “positive” news:
*This 6-month period has managed to show a gain 14 times in 31 years – so by no means should you consider this period a “sure thing” loser
*During 4 separate years – 1997, 2003, 2004 and 2010 – the “unfavorable” months registered a cumulative gain in excess of +30%.
Doesn’t sound all that “unfavorable” so far does it? But here’s the catch: Despite the occasional 30%or more gain, it is fair to refer to this 6-month period as “unfavorable” as the cumulative long-term results of buying and holding FSESX during these months has been nothing short of devastating.
Figure 2 displays the growth of $1,000 invested in ticker FSESX only between the end of May and the end of November every year starting in 1986.
Figure 2 – Growth of $1,000 invested in FSESX only during June through November every year since 1986
Starting in 1986, an initial $1,000 investment declined to just $82, or a cumulative loss of -91.8%
Figure 3 displays some comparative data between favorable and unfavorable periods as well as using a Buy-and-Hold strategy.
4 Favorable Months
6 Unfavorable Months
Average Annual % +(-)
Median Annual % +(-)
# Years UP
# Years DOWN
Cumulative % +(-)
Figure 3 – Comparative Results
Figure 4 displays the year-to-year results for a Buy-and-Hold approach versus holding only during the 4 “favorable” months or the “Unfavorable” 6 months.
All 12 months % +(-)
4 Favorable % +(-)
6 Unfavorable % +(-)
Figure 4 – Yearly % +(-) for Buy-and-Hold versus 4 Favorable Months versus 6 Unfavorable Months
There is no guarantee from year-to-year results of buying and holding ticker FSESX during the “Favorable 4” months will show a gain and/or outperform the “Unfavorable 6” months. And there is by no means any guarantee that the “Unfavorable 6” will show a loss during any given year (note that 2016 saw the Unfavorable 6 generate a cumulative gain of +20.1%!). So just remember that we are talking about some very long-term trends here.
Still, most investors can discern the difference between:
*Favorable 4 months gain = +7,500%
*Unfavorable 6 months loss = (-92%)
This type of difference is what we “quantitative types” refer to as “statistically significant.”
Recently Jay Kaeppel of Jay On The Markets posted an update on the Seasonal Bonds Strategy usingTMF. The gist of the strategy is straightforward, “Long TMF on the last 5 day of each month” I’ve posted the article below. Here’s a seasonal chart of the last 3 years with the average of the 3 years (black line). I colored the last 5 trading days of the average line in yellow to see what Jay was referring to. 8 of the 12 months were positive, 2 flat and 2 negative. Looks pretty good. At the bottom of the page you can see the returns this strategy yields. BTW this Chart type, known as a seasonality chart will be included in the next AIQ TradingExpert Pro release this fall (OK marketing bit over)
So of course the bond market rewarded my “brilliance” with a swift kick in the you know where in the months of March and April 2015 and especially in August 2015.
This would typically be enough to cause many people to go, “Well that guy’s and idiot” and to move on. But fortunately in this case, the market is a marathon and not a sprint.
Figure 1 displays the results generated by:
*Holding long 1 t-bond futures contract ONLY for the last 5 days of each month since 12/30/1983
*Holding long 1 t-bond futures contract during all other days since 12/30/1983
Figure 1 – Long 1 t-bond futures contract ONLY during last 5 trading days of month (blue) versus long 1 t-bond futures contract on all other days (red); 12/31/1983-8/12/2016
The results sort of speak for themselves.
After I wrote about my aggressive TMF strategy, TMF (of course) got hit very hard (as triple leveraged ETFs will do from time to time, hence the use of the words “aggressive” and “risky”), in March 2015 (-4.5%), April 2015 (-5.3%) and especially in August 2015 (-11.5%).
Still, as you can see in Figure 2, things have rebounded nicely since (hmmm, maybe I should be worried).
Figure 2– Growth of $1,000 Long ETF ticker TMF ONLY during last 5 trading days of month (blue) versus long TMF all other days; (red); 12/9/2009-8/12/2016
So far the “Long TMF on the last 5 day of each month” strategy is up +31.8% for the year in 2016.
Last 5 TDM Long TMF
*-Starting 4/16/2009 when TMF started trading
So did this odd little strategy “weather the storm” and “take the market’s best shot” in 2015 and now it is “smooth sailing”? Probably not. Make no mistake – this is a strategy that entails a great deal of risk. Still, for aggressive traders looking for an “edge”, it might be worth a closer look.
Some days are just better than others – am I right or am I right? As a corollary, some days are worse than others. Wouldn’t it be nice to know in advance which days were going to be which?
Well, when it comes to the stock market, maybe you can.
The 3 Days to Miss For our purposes we will refer to the very last trading day of the month as TDM -1. The day before that will be TDM -2, the one before that TDM -3, etc. Now let’s focus specifically on TDMs -7, -6 and -5. Let’s now assume that we will buy and hold the Dow Jones Industrials Average every day of every month EXCEPT for those three days – i.e., we will sell at the close of TDM -8 every single month and buy back in 3 days later. We will refer to this as Jay’s -765 Method. Granted some may not be comfortable trading this often, but before dismissing the idea please consider the results.
Figure 1 displays the growth of $1,000 invested in the Dow as described above versus the growth of $1,000 from buying and holding the Dow.
*The starting date for this test is 12/1/1933.
*For this test no interest is assumed on the 3 days a month spent out of the market.
Figure 1 – Growth of $1,000 invested in Dow Industrials during all days EXCEPT TDM -7,TDM -6 and TDM -5 (blue line) versus $1,000 invested in Dow Industrials using buy-and-hold (red line); 12/1/1933-8/15/2016
For the record:
*Jay’s -765 Method gained +94,190%
*The Dow buy-and-hold gained +18,745%
While these results are compelling, the real “Wow” comes from looking at would have happened if you had been long the Dow ONLY on TDMs -7,-6 and -5 every month since 1933. These results appear in Figure 2 (but you’d better brace yourself before taking a glance).
Figure 2 – Growth of $1,000 invested in the Dow ONLY on the 7th to last, 6th to last and 5th to last trading days of every month since 12/1/1933
The net result is an almost unrelenting 83 year decline of -80%.
Summary I would guess that some readers would like me to offer a detailed and logical reason as to why this works. Unfortunately, I will have to go with my stock answer of “It beats me.” Of course, as a proud graduate of “The School of Whatever Works” (Team Cheer: “Whatever!”) I am not as interested in the “Why” of things as I am the “How Much.”
We are entering an “interesting” time of year for investors (Unfortunately, that’s “Interesting” as in the ancient Chinese curse stating “May you live in interesting times”).
Now I personally I have no idea if the stock market is going to break out to the upside and rally to further new highs or if this latest lull will be followed by a painful reversal of fortune. I am willing to play the long side as long as things are holding up/moving in the right direction. But investors should be aware that the August/September timeframe is the “Danger Zone” for the stock market historically.
Figure 1 speaks for itself. The chart displays the growth of $1000 invested in the Dow Jones Industrials Average only during the months of August and September every year starting in1934.
Figure 1 – Growth of $1,000 invested in Dow Jones Industrials Average (using price data only) ONLY during August and September; 12/31/1933-present
Two key takeaways:
*The net result has been a loss of -53% or the past 82 year. Not exactly the kind of returns most of us are looking for.
*Despite the negative net results, the fact is that the Aug/Sep period has showed a gain more often (45 times) than not (37 times).
So while caution appears to be in order, no one should assume that the next two months are doomed to show a loss.
Stocks versus Bonds
Figure 2 compares the performance of:
Ticker VFINX – Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund
*Ticker VFIIX – Vanguard Mortgage Bond Fund
(*VFIIX is used as a proxy for intermediate-term treasuries as it has a high correlation to IT treasuries and a longer data history. Any short-to-intermediate term treasury fund or ETF would likely produce similar results)
The test starts in 1980 (when VFIIX started trading) and shows the total return for buying and holding each fund ONLY during the months of August and September each year since.
Figure 2 – Growth of $1,000 invested in VFINX (stocks; blue line) versus VFIIX (bonds; red line); August 1980 to present
So what will it be this year? A breakout to new highs? Or something much worse? I wish I could tell you the answer. But at least now you have some information to help guide your “speculative” versus “conservative” instincts in the months ahead.