CryptocurrencyInvestingBanksReal Estate

September was bad for investors. And watch out: October may be ‘choppier’

September 29, 2020, 10:00 AM UTC

With just two trading days left in the month, it’s probably safe to say: September was largely a flop. But as markets pick up a bit of steam this week, what will investors have to look forward to come October?

If you ask Edward Jones’s Nela Richardson, “I think the choppiness we saw in September will spill over into October,” she tells Fortune. “It’s unlikely given the election and the near-term uncertainty about stimulus that we’ll see the smooth rally that we saw this summer.”

In terms of what could spur on this continued “choppiness,” Richardson highlights the still-unresolved stimulus talks, rising coronavirus cases across the U.S., and, of course, the upcoming election. (Of all three, Richardson suggests the pandemic is still the most worrying for markets.) And while the economic recovery was more pronounced this spring and summer, “from here on out, it’s going to be longer and more protracted and less clear. I think the market performance will reflect that,” she says.

But for CFRA’s Sam Stovall, October may clue investors in to where the correction (or rally) goes from here: “October has historically been a bottoming month,” he wrote in a note Monday. In context, “the depth and duration of this decline remains the outstanding question. As to how far, we think the S&P 500 will test its 200-day moving average, causing a top-to-bottom decline approaching 14%,” he suggests.

What history tells us

As strategists like LPL Financial’s Ryan Detrick have pointed out, September and October tend to be weaker months preceding an election.

And historically, October has been one of the more volatile months. So much so that CFRA’s Stovall quips, “Investors may be convinced that Halloween was purposely placed in October because the market’s actions can be so spooky.” Since World War II, the biggest increase in an October (up 16.9% in 1974) was “the best of any month,” while its deepest decline (down 21.8% in 1987) was the worst, Stovall writes. “Not surprising, October’s standard deviation of monthly returns is 36% higher than the average for all other months. Overall, Stovall warns investors: October is a “capitulation month,” with the biggest percentage of 5%-plus declines concluded in October, “usually with swift and sharp selloffs,” he wrote.

But that doesn’t mean the current correction, which has seen the S&P 500 drop nearly 10% (now down 6.4%) and the Nasdaq shed as much as 12% in the past month, is necessarily going to continue.

“This choppiness is something we’ve been warning clients about that it’s coming, and now it’s here. But that doesn’t mean the overall market rally has come to an end,” suggests Edward Jones’s Richardson. “It’s more that we’re just not out of the woods in terms of the major risks to the recovery, which is the pandemic.”

Technical analysts at Bank of America point out that “weaker seasonality and tactical risks…have triggered a correction ahead of the November election, but this bullish setup stays intact if the SPX holds big support in the 3200 to 3000 range,” the analysts wrote in a note Monday, referring to a so-called cup-and-handle pattern (see chart). They see the S&P 500 trading as high as 4300 over the longer term.

But how will tech fare? While Big Tech may be showing a mean reversion, or return to long-standing price norms, LPL’s Jeff Buchbinder argues, “Despite September weakness in this sector that has dragged the broader market lower, we expect technology leadership to continue given supportive underlying fundamental and technical conditions,” he wrote in a note Monday.

For the time being, it seems markets are determined to end the month on a somewhat higher note—the S&P 500 closed up 1.6% on Monday after also trading up Friday.

And moving forward, Richardson has a word of advice: “What investors should do is really look at maintaining diversification, not putting all of their efforts in past leaders.”