We’re almost at the halfway mark of the third quarter and stock indexes around the world are in the red. The S&P 500 is a relative winner, down just 2% this quarter. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index has dropped more than 11%, while Germany’s DAX has lost almost 6% and Japan’s Tokyo Stock Price index, or Topix, is down more than 4%. The globe-encompassing MSCI All Country World Index is off close to 3% this quarter.
Factors including deteriorating expectations for economic growth and escalating trade wars have been responsible for the global stock market retreat this time around, but the third quarter has tended to be a loser for stocks since 1997. The S&P 500 has had a positive return in about 59% of third quarters, but has recorded an average loss of 0.6%, according to a group of equity strategists from Jefferies who studied index seasonality in a recent report. August, in particular, has been a tough month for U.S. stocks, with an average return of negative 1% since 1997. Lower summer trading volumes may make stocks more sensitive to selling pressure when bits of bad news inevitably arrive.
Investors abroad have had a tendency to sell in the summer as well. The DAX has ended the third quarter lower than it started in 55% of years since 1997, losing an average of 3.2%. The Topix is down 59% of the time, on average 2.9% lower. The MSCI All Country World Index is 1.1% lower on average, while the Hang Seng has managed a slight 0.2% rise in third quarters since 1997. This year looks as if it will bring down all of those averages.
The Jeffries analysts found that, not only does the tendency for stocks to decline in the third quarter apply globally, a variety of other asset classes also follow that pattern. The U.S. Dollar, Vix volatility index, U.S. 10-year Treasury yields, and gold have all done worse in third quarters than they have the rest of the year on average since 1997.
For investors sitting on losses so far this third quarter, Jefferies notes that the trend can also become your friend before the year is out.
“Although there is a health warning over the correlation of equity markets to each other over time, a definite pattern emerges with Q4 euphoria having been preceded by a dose of Q3 misery,” the analysts wrote.
As investors begin turning their gaze toward the next year in October, November, and December, optimism picks up. The S&P 500 is up in 77% of fourth quarters since 1997, for an average return of 4.2%. Christmas in Germany has been particularly cheerful, with the DAX up 86% of the time and sitting on an average gain of 6.9%. The Topix and Hang Seng have climbed 1.4% and 3.9%, respectively, on average. For the whole world, the MSCI All Country World Index is up 74% of the time in the fourth quarter, with an average gain of 3.8%.
April and December tend to be the best months across each of the indexes.