”Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shuts down for ten years.”— Warren Buffett
Before 9/11, we would visit the “open cry” pits of oil and commodities traders near Battery Park in Manhattan.
The pits were chaotic. There was yelling. People threw little slips of paper with trading instructions on them at “pit bosses” who wore vests like they ought to be on their way to clean the toilets down the hallway… but they were really the ones moving big money.
It was exciting, fun and loud.
Today, Robinhood has replaced the in-person exchange. The online retail brokerage offers 24/7 trading of single name stocks. Maybe it’s an improvement. But we’re not so sure.
Even the London Metal Exchange—the last functioning ‘open cry’ exchange—is reduced to electronic trades: traders use short periods of face-to-face “ring trading” for price discovery then place their trades on their tablets.
The markets change. Es lo que es. A beast, an organism, a force of nature. And now, a cyborgian half-breed. And it falls upon the intelligent investor to change with it.
The wisdom will change with it.
We love stock market lore like “Buy the rumor, sell the news” or “The rich think in terms of decades rather than day-to-day like the everyman does.” That kind of thing.
There’s something romantic about it. “Sell in May and go away!” is one of our favorites. But now we realize the phrase may be but a leveling denomination, an aristocratic adage shewn from the late British Empire, adopted by Wall Street seersuckers and the like.
We know the idea from the old timer’s—guys like Jesse Livermore—who believed trading in the summer was far more risky than it was worth, as stocks typically underperform in the summer months. Your money in cash means it isn’t at risk in the markets. Plus, in the northern hemisphere it’s hot and humid; if you sold your stocks, took your profits, and escaped the summer city heat, life would be more enjoyable.
Free to spend it in Tulum where your dollar goes further and the crypto evangelists like to play. Or, if you’re inclined, the transatlantic cruise lines have rebooted following the pandemic and are still reasonably inexpensive. You might even take your profits and lounge on the beach in the French Riviera living lavishly like it’s a rebirth of the Roaring ‘20s.
That’s the idea anyhow. There’s definitely an F. Scott Fitzgerald Great Gatsby vibe to the phrase; the promise of opulence, licentiousness, Brigitte Bardot, the 400 Blows… and having the ‘f’ you money to do it.
Sometimes a quaint notion. Sell in May, don’t buy again until October or November, when all the traders get serious about their AI stocks and options trades again.
Looking solely at historical S&P 500 data, it’s not just a wealthy person’s fever dream. Summer seasons do tend to make up the smallest percentage of a calendar year’s return. The worst month on average is September.
“In fact, the second part of that phrase is “…come back on St. Leger’s Day,” referring to a horse race,” writes Robinhood’s Stephanie Guild.
St. Leger’s Day Stakes are typically run in September. This year’s event will take place between September 14 and 17.
Ironically, Robinhood is part of the reason the “Sell in May” sentiment is losing its veracity and with it the nostalgia of old school traders.
On a beautiful spring day in Baltimore, just a few weeks past our own Preakness Stakes, we’re kind of nostalgic for open cry and taking the summer months off to travel and enjoy your wins… or losses as they may be.
People still say “sell in may and go away” but the phrase is about as vestigial to the markets as your appendix is to your stomach or a wing bone on a flightless bird.
So it goes,
The Wiggin Sessions
P.S. With the debt ceiling debate mollified (for now) and the banking crisis still nascent… and inflation not nearly under wraps… this year stock picking is the task. These days, if you sell in May and wait until St. Leger’s Day to buy again your portfolio is likely going to be in shambles when you return to it.
Addison Wiggin is an American writer, publisher, and filmmaker. He was the founder of Agora Financial and publisher for 18 years. An acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, his books include: Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt, The Demise of the Dollar, and The Little Book of the Shrinking Dollar. Addison is also the writer and executive producer of the documentary I.O.U.S.A., an exposé on the national debt, shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2008. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his family. Addison started his latest project, The Wiggin Sessions, powered by Consilience Financial, in March 2020. He films from a homegrown studio in his basement.