Why the Sell in May and Go Away Theme Sounds Stronger in 2019

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It’s that time of year again when investors will get to doubt all their holdings and investments when the market has been so strong. Is that overdue recession coming sooner rather than later? Is the stock market way ahead of itself? Is the next correction, or even a crash, around the corner? Those are all the questions that will get asked as May arrives.

The “Sell in May, and Go Away!” theme is obviously nothing new. The theory is that business slows down and the public is more interested in taking vacations over the summer than working harder when there is less upside and fewer people around to even notice. This is also a time where investors expect slower trading days — the so-called summer doldrums.

There may be some driving forces that are stronger in the 2019 sell in May thesis than in prior years. The China trade issue remains unresolved at this point, Europe is teetering on recession again (with or without Brexit), and global growth remains muted and slumbering. To top that off, the year-to-date gains of 17.5% for the S&P 500 and almost 24% for the Nasdaq-100 have been so impressive that some of us are even hoping for a pullback for an orderly market. Even a 14% gain in the Dow Jones industrials would be more than impressive enough for most investors, but it has lagged due to the more recent performance of Boeing and underperformance from 3M and Caterpillar.

There are several views heading into May of 2019 suggesting that perhaps a sell in May thesis might be merited in 2019. These do not make for a universal consensus at all, and there is always a question around the “when” the saying really means in May. It is also important to keep in mind that there also have been many expectations for a pullback with slower domestic growth in 2019, but neither have really been the case so far.

Canaccord Genuity’s Tony Dwyer believes a stock market correction is looming. The equity strategist is not calling for a major correction, but you can bet that the financial media will play up the negativity and panic the moment the Dow or S&P 500 suffers a large one-day or one-week loss.

Dwyer noted that the four key tactical indicators remain near extreme overbought and optimism levels. The breadth thrust three-month target has been exceeded, and that prior EPS fear has been largely reversed with earnings season. The firm even expects a small positive gain on earnings rather than the prior consensus for a small earnings (per share) drop for the first quarter of 2019. Dwyer noted:

Although our fundamental core thesis remains positive, given a backdrop of low inflation, the dovish Fed pivot, a re-steepening yield curve, slowing but positive growth, better-than-expected EPS, and valuation expansion, the tactical backdrop continues to suggest a minor correction over the near term, with any drawdown limited to less than 5%.

Again, a 5% correction is not the end of the world by a long shot. With gains of 14% to 24% in the three major equity indexes, some of us would handily welcome a 5% correction.