Most years, at about this time, investors begin to anticipate a so-called “Christmas Rally”. So far investors have received nothing but coal in their stockings. I counsel patience. Most investors appear to be jumping the gun.
There are many explanations for why markets sometimes move higher between Christmas and the New Year and into January. One reason is the “January Effect”. Historically (since 1925) markets have risen in the first month of the year with small caps leading the way. Investors like to get in the market before that move begins, usually during the last week of the year.
Since 1896, the Dow’s average monthly return in up years has been roughly 0.5% but Decembers have returned 1.4% overall. Some believe that tax considerations drive the markets during this time. Investors, for example, who sold losers earlier in the month, now begin to replenish their portfolios with new buys. There is also the fact that many employees receive their year-end bonuses, either in December or January, and invest those proceeds into the markets. I wouldn’t discount the psychological impact either. Good feelings, generated by holiday cheer, and the absence of Grinch-like pessimists, who are usually on vacation at that time, spill over into the stock markets..
Yet, not all years have produced Christmas rallies and many Decembers have actually lost money for investors. Given the steady stream of bad news coming out of Europe one would expect that any rally we may have will be somewhat subdued.
For most of this week the markets have tried to rally, largely on good news generated by the U.S. economy. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning’s stocks were bid up by one percent or more only to flounder when comments out of Europe cut the gains to just above breakeven. As expected, the sniping began on Monday, almost as soon the EU agreed to expand and police a new fiscal austerity effort among its members. The naysayers were eager to explain why the agreement would be difficult to implement or just plain won’t work.
Rumors all week that the credit agencies were preparing to downgrade sovereign French debt to ‘AA’ from ‘AAA’ has also kept a lid on our markets. On Friday, Credit agency Fitch actually downgraded its outlook on France to “negative” but kept their ‘AAA’ rating. It also put Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia and Cyprus on negative watch.
Traders have been watching the Euro, selling stocks as the Euro-Zone currency declines and the dollar moves up and then reversing the trade on any strength in the Euro. They argue that the Euro’s decline signals worse trouble ahead for the EU and therefore for America and the rest of the world. No one seems to recognize that the Euro’s decline actually helps the economies of Europe (making the goods they sell cheaper to overseas buyers), especially in places like Italy and Spain, where exports are a big part of their overall economies.
One wonders when investors are going to decouple from their manic focus on Europe and concentrate instead on the U.S. market where stocks are cheap, unemployment is declining, and the economy growing. It is my hope that it will finally dawn on the markets that there’s no place like home, especially for the holidays. In which case, there may be more under the tree than most investor’s expected.