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Selling in May not necessarily the only way

By Dian Vujovich

One week into the month of May and there  clearly are a  number of reasons why the ole “Sell in May and go away” adage holds water beginning with this month’s market’s volatility. Plus,  no matter how you slice it, the six-month period from May through October hasn’t provided equity investors with as  appealing  returns  as those during the November through April time frame have. Historically, of course.


Looking back to 1928 and the performance of the S&P 500 index, in May stocks have averaged a 1.9 percent return during that month compared to April’s 5.1 percent return, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch data.


But I’d take that info with a grain of salt given that the S&P 500 index didn’t really get off the ground until the 1950s. March 4, 1957 to be exact, according to a S&P Dow Jones Indices Fact Sheet.


That said, Standard & Poor did introduce their first stock index in 1923. So I’m going to guess the BofA/ ML data is probably accurate.


Something else the May-October historical time frame performance record shows is that it offers the highest risk for market declines—like declines of 20 percent or more—according to USAToday.com.


So what does this info mean to the average don’t-trade-every-day investor? Well, a couple things. First, history offers a record of the past and nothing of the present.


Second, stocks aren’t the only game in town.  According to that same USAToday.com story, turning from equities to bonds  has historically rewarded investors during that six-month period: Since 1977, S&P Capital IQ data shows a basket of diversified bonds returned on average 4 percent more during the months of May through October.


Third, timing is everything and like all other years before it, we are right in the midst of creating a record. So it’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen this month or in the future as the market is in the process of forging its own way.


Fourth, with interest rates at historic lows, an argument for how that will positively impact equities can just as easily be made as one that says the world is in an economic mess. Hence, a bear market is coming our way so head to the hills and buy bonds.


Fifth, you could forget about all of this timing and adage hoopla and do as Warren Buffet suggested in his 2013 annual Berkshire Hathaway letter. In his will he apparently has left instructions for how the trustee should invest money left to his wife: “…put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.)”.

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