Old Wall Street wisdom about selling in May no longer makes sense

It’s the first trading day of May for the stock market. And guess what? Investors should ignore the dumb, antiquated saying about selling in May and going away.

The anachronistic idea goes something like this: An investor should lock in gains now and then mostly ignore the markets for the summer while sitting on a beach somewhere. And in 2021, it makes absolutely no sense.

For one, it’s not as if Corporate America and the economy go on summer break.

Companies still announce earnings, make acquisitions and go public. The Federal Reserve continues to meet and the government puts out data on the job market, retail sales, inflation and plenty of other things.

With that in mind, investors need to pay attention to the headlines — not what month it is.

“There is no proof of any kind that selling in May and going away will add value,” said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies and solutions at Voya Investment Management.

“First of all, market timing is very hard. And we like stocks and are not going to change that opinion just because the calender says May,” Zemsky said. “The fundamentals remain strong and that’s what we look at. The economy is on great footing.”

Corporate earnings for the first quarter have been solid across the board, and the outlooks from companies for the rest of the year have been healthy too.

“The strength of the current economic recovery and rebound in corporate earnings suggest it may be premature to expect a near-term seasonal peak in equities,” said strategists at UBS Global Wealth Management in a recent report. “We recommend investors stay invested, diversify exposure, and keep control of their wealth plan.”

It’s also worth pointing out that selling in May and going away has been a good way to lose money for the past few years. The S&P 500 rose 12% between the start of May and end of October last year.

And according to data compiled by LPL Financial, the S&P 500 has averaged a 3.8% gain between May and October over the past 10 years. The only times the market went down in that period was in 2011 (an 8.1% drop) and in 2015, when the index fell a mere 0.3%.

With that in mind, LPL Financial chief market strategist Ryan Detrick isn’t advising that investors follow a “sell in May” strategy.

“With an accommodative Fed, fiscal and monetary policy, along with an economy that is opening faster than nearly anyone expected, we’d use any weakness as an opportunity to add to positions,” Detrick said in a report.

Still, one investing strategist is worried that the market’s strong start to the year could lead to a summer swoon. After all, the S&P 500 is now up nearly 12% in 2021 and is not far from a record high.

“The catalysts are strong for a sell in May strategy with the hot start to 2021,” said Jeff Carbone, managing partner for Cornerstone Wealth, in an email. “It may be time to take some profits from the strong growth sectors that have had big runs in 2021.”

“There looks to be some runway left for growth and room for the markets to run but it may be a shorter runway and we are landing in LaGuardia, not Denver,” he added, referring to two US airports known for their short and long landing strips.