Thursday, June 14, 2018

Market Seasonality-A Republish

I got some questions this week about my thoughts on market seasonality so I thought I'd reprint this piece that was originally posted to our blog on April 6, 2012. It was part of a set of articles done in a question and answer style and published serially back then.  {Note:  Highlighted bullet points.}

You place a lot of emphasis on market seasonality. Why is that?

We have touched on this in past client letters here  here and here. Basically there are seasonal variations or patterns that come into play in most years. The study of these bullish and bearish phases means that I accept as a given that stocks at some point this year will experience a sell off between 8-20%. This is simply the normal course of how markets behave in most years. It is part of the seasonal variation of how in a normal investment year stocks will cycle between bullish and bearish phases as measured by money flows. While market declines can come at any time, statistically stocks are most prone to major sell offs in between the months of March and October.

As I've said in the past one of the reasons I think this pattern works is the philosophy behind how most of what we refer to as institutional money is invested. Institutional money is a generic term for large institutions such as pension plans and large asset managers such as mutual funds. It is managed on a relative basis usually tied to a specific benchmark and is also managed so as to not give up the assets. By relative basis I mean as an example in a market that loses ten percent, institutional accounts that go down only 8% are said to have outperformed their peer group. That influences how their portfolios are set up. Institutions generally start a year with similar economic and valuation expectations for stocks.

Institutions have a very strong incentive to be heavily invested in the early months of a new year. They are afraid to fall too far behind their benchmarks. Their thinking is similar to that of a baseball manager at the beginning of a long season. The manager knows you don't win a pennant in April but you can lose one during that time. As the year progresses and in particular if stocks have advanced in the first few months, equities begin to look less attractive on year end expectations. Stocks will either need unexpected positive news {i.e. better than expected earnings news or higher economic forecasts for example} or prices will begin to stall out. One of my concerns right now is that the markets have had such a strong move that much of the economic expectations are already priced into stocks. If companies don't excessively move the needle higher on earnings and sales going forward than investors, especially those with a shorter term horizon, may begin to lock in their profits.

Stocks will fall of their own weight unless there are marginal new bidders for their shares. Summer is typically a down period for Wall Street as the news flow often dries up {unless it’s bad news. It is amazing how many international crises begin in the late spring/summer period. Both World Wars, the Korean War, 9/11, the First Gulf War and the 2008 banking crisis are examples of this.}

Summer is also when analysts begin to fine tune their expectations for stock prices as clarity begins to enter the picture about year-end economic activity. Stocks will also begin to discount any lower revisions or negative economic news during this period of seasonal weakness. Once this discounting process is completed stocks will usually then begin to rally sometime in autumn. The cynical amongst us also know that the only print that matters for most money managers is the one shown when the market closes on December 31st. To put it simply Wall Street wants to get paid. So there is a strong incentive to boost share prices during the 4th quarter of the year.

Back Tuesday