Should you sell in April and go away?
It’s an odd question, I admit. Widespread talk of selling usually doesn’t begin until late April, when investors each year are reminded of the famous seasonal pattern “sell in May and go away.” But it’s precisely because it is so well-known that some followers of this seasonal tendency wonder if they should act sooner rather than later. Waiting until May Day runs the risk of selling at the same time that a large number of other investors are doing the same. Fortunately, we have real-world data on two attempts to get a jump start on the “sell in May and go away” pattern.
The first is the “Almanac Investor Newsletter,” edited by Jeffrey Hirsch, and the other is Sy Harding’s “Street Smart Report.” Both pursue surprisingly similar modifications to this basic seasonal pattern. Each relies on a technical indicator known as MACD to pinpoint the precise day on which they enter and exit the market. (MACD is a short-term momentum indicator, standing for moving average convergence divergence.) The Hulbert Financial Digest has track records for both market timers’ modifications of this seasonal pattern dating to mid-2002, nearly 13 years ago.
As you can see from the accompanying table on link below, a buy-and-hold strategy since mid-2002 has produced a 7.7% annualized return. Automatically going to cash every May Day and re-entering the market on Halloween would have done slightly better with a lot less risk — which is why it comes out well ahead of buying and holding on a risk-adjusted basis (as indicated by a higher Sharpe Ratio). Harding’s modification of the Halloween Indicator did even better still, producing a 9.2% annualized return over the same period — 1.5 percentage points per year more than a purely mechanical application of this seasonal pattern, and 1.3 percentage points ahead of a buy-and-hold.
Even better, this market-beating return was produced with 39% less risk, which means it’s even further ahead of buy-and-hold on a risk-adjusted basis. In fact, Harding’s modification of the Halloween Indicator is in fourth place for risk-adjusted performance since mid-2002 out of the 91 stock-market-timing strategies the Hulbert Financial Digest has tracked over this period
. To be sure, Hirsch’s modification of the Halloween Indicator performed less well than Harding’s, producing an 8% annualized return while incurring 35% less risk than the market itself. It still came out ahead of buy-and-hold, however, on both an unadjusted and a risk-adjusted basis. What about this April? To be informed when those two advisers actually trigger their “sell” signals, you would need to subscribe to their services. But one way in which their MACD-based systems could trigger an early “sell” signal (but not the only way) would be for the market to be strong for a few days and then quickly drop back.
Given the stock market’s impressive rally on Monday, such a “sell” signal could come fairly soon. If that happens, followers of this seasonal pattern might consider going to cash — thereby taking off the rest of the spring and summer from stressing about the market.