Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Santa Claus Rally and the January Effect

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

The Santa Claus rally is a move up in stocks that takes place around December 25th. This rally was already part of Wall Street lore in the 1800s, and was memorialized in the ditty: 'If Santa fails to make a call, the bear will come to Broad and Wall'. There is no general agreement on the exact dates of the rally. It is defined as beginning from a few to several days before Christmas or immediately thereafter. It ends either in the current year or two or three days into the next year. It is most useful to think about it as two separate phenomenon. The first as the trading period around Christmas day and the second as the first four trading days of the new year. Each has its own message.

The bullishness in stocks around December 25th probably doesn't have much to do with the holiday per se, but with year end adjustments within the financial system. Instead of calling it the Santa Claus Rally, it would probably be more accurate to refer to it as the Year End Rally. If you look at long-term charts, you will note that the VIX, the volatility index, is either low or drops around the end of the most years. This is bullish for stocks. The VIX hit a yearly low on December 22nd in 2009 trading below 20 for the first time since the summer of 2008. An exceptionally low VIX while bullish in the short term sets the stock market up for eventual selling however.

What happens at the end of the year and at the beginning of the year can be quite different however and the two shouldn't be lumped together. Investment money tends to be reallocated at the beginning of a quarter and this is most pronounced in the first quarter. Investors should watch closely what sectors rally and what sectors of the market experience selling during the first four trading days of the year. This tells you where money is flowing. If the stock market overall sells off in the first four days, this is a bearish signal at least for the first quarter. It indicates big money is withdrawing its support from stocks.

The first four days trading signal is sometimes lumped in with the January Effect, but shouldn't be. The January Effect is a tendency for stocks to rally during the first month of the year, with small caps outperforming big and mid-caps. The January Effect was noted in the U.S. by the 1920s and perhaps even earlier. It has been observed in a number of stock markets throughout the world. The effect seems to have become dampened in recent years.

Trading volume tends to be low around the end of the year because many people are away because of the holidays. This can exaggerate price movements. Liquidity coming from the Fed and other central banks will have a more pronounced impact than usual. If you look at a chart for the U.S. Monetary Base, you will see that it has been rising vertically in the last few months. It is not surprising that the current liquidity fueled rally in stocks is continuing.

NEXT: NovaGold Leads Mining Group on Takeover

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.