Sell in May and Go Away? A 2013 Primer and Catalysts

Stocks have enjoyed a serious bull market, and we still have the S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average both up by double digits so far in 2013. As this is the second-half of April, we cannot help but consider the annual mantra “Sell in May and Go Away!” as it pertains to the price of stocks as investors start to evaluate the summer each year. The “Sell in May” came early this year and the “Go Away” is perhaps not as prevalent in 2013. So 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed why this is happening and what the implications are for the summer of 2013 when it comes to your finances and retirement assets.

The 2013 primer for “Sell in May and Go Away!” will be more concise and quick-hit. More detailed and recent background data is available in links, for a broader, fresh reading on each point.

Maybe this really was supposed to be a “Sell in April” call as the markets have become choppy after huge gains. Investors have high profits that they can still lock in, but many investors still have managed to miss the bull market without making much in profits outside of their bond funds. Due to attempts to chase returns and to catch up on missing five years of retirement investing, the first quarter saw record inflows of capital into stock funds, if you measure the past decade or so. The fact that interest is being rekindled in stocks actually may lead to some stabilizing support in May, even if the economic data remains spotty to cautious.

Corporate earnings are coming out mixed. The overall focus of just earnings and guidance is positive on the bottom line, but revenue growth for the major companies remains stodgy and hard to find this year. Weak international markets and emerging markets are playing into that, as is the rising value of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies.

Economic readings are showing only modest growth or contraction. If you have looked at the various purchasing managers’ index readings and the regional Federal Reserve and regional economic reports, the sentiment is either in the red, showing contraction, or growth that remains so low that it might as well be contraction.

Europe remains a serious point of weakness. Somehow the tiny banking island nation of Cyprus managed to dwarf the problems of Greece, Italy and elsewhere. Now we have France effectively in a recession again, and Germany’s reports are teetering back to recessionary levels. If these readings do not improve, then growth forecasts for later in 2013 will revert to recessionary projections. That is bad for exporters. The U.K. even lost another Triple-A rating.

China and emerging markets are less than robust. The recent International Monetary Fund and other international meetings point to emerging markets not being strong enough to support their internal growth projections. Growth in Brazil and Russia may be better than in India, but the whole BRIC complex is running below its capabilities. China has been called the growth engine of the world but it also is showing more manufacturing weakness as well.

Consumers are facing pressure. Weaker consumer sentiment has come after the start of higher taxes, but commodities may help stabilize the bleeding. Consumers have had to face higher payroll taxes and higher food prices. Overall inflation is tame. This is hurting sentiment and some spending measurements. The good news here is that lower oil prices will save consumers directly at the pump, which helps them have more spending money for restaurants, entertainment and other consumer spending issues. If oil prices remain low, this may be a stabilizing force against what would otherwise be a less than robust consumer. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) and even Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST) are all within 1% or so of multiyear highs in their share prices.

Broader economic barometer companies are faltering. Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) showed serious concerns about the year ahead for pre-infrastructure and mining outfits. The only saving graces were that investors already were figuring this into the share price and that the company will spend up to $1 billion to repurchase shares on the cheap. General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) managed to meet many expectations, but this one had run up and valuation met what is obviously going to be slower growth ahead for this economic bellwether as well.

Banking excitement has petered out. The post-earnings reaction to banks has not carried the 2012 excitement much further into 2013. It is getting harder to find the same enthusiasm around Bank of America Corp (NYSE: BAC) and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM). Even a discount to book value argument has not yet handily changed after about four years of recovery. Jamie Dimon even warned of more regulatory action ahead.

Technology is waning for the bulls. The good news is that Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) managed to hold up better than expected after earnings. The bad news is that Windows 8 has been partially blamed for a weak PC sales cycle that was the worst in years so far. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has lost its way and wrecked many investor fortunes who wanted to chase what was supposed to be a sure thing. International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) showed not just that it had little growth, but contraction. It simply may have run out of room to grow.

Metals have been serious points of weakness. Both have hit multiyear lows, but gold has wrecked more market-oriented finances and weak miner trends may imply that gold has not found a new investor base yet. Copper forecasts have come down due to the global demand and supply issues, and copper is arguably one of the biggest leading indicators of them all for emerging market and Chinese expansion. Elsewhere in metals, Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) manages to keep selling a very slow and targeted turnaround story, and its shares are still lower than before its recent earnings and guidance.

A Recent History of “Sell in May and Go Away!”

At the end of April of 2012, there was a long road of political hate ahead of the U.S. presidential election, with an economy that was still sluggish but avoiding recession. The labor data was still choppy, with unemployment at about 8.2% due to lower labor force participation rates. Earnings growth was slowing then as well, and Europe was actually even more of a concern in 2012 than it is in 2013. The good news is that equity values were attractive and the FOMC still had more quantitative easing measures in its pocket at the time, with the pledge of maintaining an “exceptionally low rate policy” through the end of 2014.

The year 2011 felt close to a repeat of 2010, with the worries not just about the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain), but about the possibilities of a U.S. debt rating downgrade, which did ultimately come. Housing was still in the tank and employment was not yet in a full-blown recovery in America. While the end of April to the end of May did see a drop of 800 points in the DJIA, from almost 12,900 in late April and early May to just above 12,000 by late May and 11,900 by late June, it was late July and August that were the cruel months for the DJIA as companies began to suffer serious earnings concerns. The DJIA bottomed out just under 10,600 in August. By late October the market was back above 12,000 again.

But 2009 was a very different year because the market was recovering from the crash and stocks were still benefitting from that move. Summer of 2010 has a nasty start as investors worried about a double-dip recession, as housing prices continued to sink and unemployment was still a prime concern. We also faced that punishing event called the “Flash Crash.” Another big distraction was BP PLC (NYSE: BP), for its disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and America and the rest of the world was starting to consider some problems in nations called the PIIGS. The market peaked around 11,300 in late April and had sunk to a 9,800 by early May. Even around July 6, the DJIA was only near 10,200, and it was only back up to almost 10,500 after the end of August around Labor Day.

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