A robust first quarter brought the Dow and S&P 500 to all-time closing highs heading into the long holiday weekend. (U.S. markets are closed today in observance of Good Friday.)
But any celebration of the market’s gains is being tempered by memories of the past three years of “Spring Swoons” which, coincidentally or not, all began in April.
Specifically, the S&P peaked on April 2, 2012, April 29, 2011 and April 23, 2010 -- peaks that were followed by losses of 10-19%.
Brian Sozzi, an independent analyst, says investors should definitely be aware of the “creepy demons of April.”
He notes several of the same catalysts for the sell-offs of the prior three years are readily evident today, including:
- Worries about destabilization in Europe.
- Concerns about a slowdown in China.
- Weaker-than-expected earnings. FedEx, Oracle and Caterpillar being obvious examples but Sozzi also notes there was some underlying weakness to Dollar General’s apparently rosy results.
- Fear the Federal Reserve is preparing to slow or stop its bond-buying program, a.k.a. QE.
New this year is the impact of the government sequester which Sozzi notes has faded from the headlines but may yet hit the actual economy.
In addition, he (among others) observes that defensive stocks like Hershey’s and Clorox have been leading the rally of late while former high flyers such as the homebuilders have stalled despite reporting bullish results; Toll Brothers being a prime example.
“That’s late-cycle stuff and may be a sign of a top,” Sozzi says. “The market is saying ‘you’d better pay attention.’”
Having said that, and despite all the warning signs, Sozzi isn’t predicting a major washout, much less a market peak.
Look to defensive low margin business for late-cycle winners- Hershey, Tupperware and Clorox are all ripping higher.
“Given stocks had such a massive run could they be sold to pay taxes? Why not?,” he says. “A couple of percentage points off the top – 3% to 5% - is very realistic” but don’t expect a full-blown repeat of the past three years.
Of course, only time will tell -- maybe the market will crash from current levels. But as my colleague Michael Santoli notes, the fact that so many people are looking for a repeat of the 'Spring Swoon' pattern means it is less likely to come to fruition.
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