Seasonal Strategies

Almanac Update March 2020: Beware the Ides & Month-End Weakness

Boisterous March markets tend to drive prices up early in the month and batter stocks at month end. Julius Caesar failed to heed the famous warning to “beware the Ides of March” but investors have been served well when they have. Stock prices have a propensity to decline, sometimes rather precipitously, during the latter days of the month. In March 2001, DJIA plunged 1469 points (-13.5%) from March 9 to the 22.

March packs a rather busy docket. It is the end of the first quarter, which brings with it Triple Witching and an abundance of portfolio maneuvers from The Street. March Triple-Witching Weeks have been quite bullish in recent years. But the week after is the exact opposite, DJIA down 22 of the last 32 years—and frequently down sharply for an average drop of 0.72%. In 2018, DJIA lost 1413 points (–5.67%) Notable gains during the week after for DJIA of 4.88% in 2000, 3.06% in 2007, 6.84% in 2009, and 3.05% in 2011 are the rare exceptions to this historically poor performing timeframe.

Normally a decent performing market month, March is above average in election years with advances 64.7% of the time with a 1.0% average DJIA gain since 1952. S&P 500 has also advanced 64.7% of the time since 1952, but gains have been slightly better at 1.2%, on average. NASDAQ has not fared well in March in election years since 1972. Due to a 17.1% loss in 1980, March is NASDAQ’s second worst month of the election year.

Election-Year March Performance

Saint Patrick’s Day is March’s sole recurring cultural event. Gains the day before Saint Patrick’s Day have been greater than the day itself and the day after. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the patron saint’s holiday that boosts the market and the distraction from the parade down Fifth Avenue that causes equity markets to languish. Or maybe it’s the fact that Saint Pat’s usually falls in historically bullish Triple-Witching Week.

Whatever the case, since 1950, the S&P 500 posts an average gain of 0.19% on Saint Patrick’s Day (or the next trading day when it falls on a weekend), a gain of 0.13% the day after and the day before averages a 0.24% advance. S&P 500 median values are 0.18% on the day before, 0.22% on Saint Patrick’s Day and 0.05% on the day after. In the ten years when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Tuesday, like this year, since 1950, the day before (Monday) produced an average gain of 0.07%, while Tuesday advanced an average 0.66% and Wednesday averaged 0.38%.

March 2020 Vital Stats Table