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Buckle up: August is historically a rough month for stock investors

August 2, 2021, 4:32 PM UTC

Investors may still have their out-of-office replies turned on during their late-summer vacations, but August could pull them back to reality.

“Throughout the month of July, investors had been singing ‘Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,'” with the S&P 500 posting seven all-time highs, Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA, wrote in a Monday note. “Unfortunately,” he added, the month of August “has a reputation for disappointing investors.”

He notes that since 1945, “the S&P 500 posted its third-worst average monthly return, and third most volatile performance, in August. To make matters worse, while the S&P 500 was higher 55% of the time in August, that batting average fell to only 35% following the 23 years in which the S&P set one or more new highs in July. And to add insult to injury, following the 13 Julys that set six or more new all-time highs, the S&P 500 declined an average 2.4% in August, and fell in price 12 of 13 times.”

Those aren’t the only trends working against the markets this month. According to an LPL Financial report out Monday, stocks “tend to peak” on Aug. 6 during a postelection year that features a new party holding the presidency (of which 2021 is one).

For 2021 in particular, CFRA’s Stovall suggests investors may see a bit of red in the markets in August as “the likely peak in EPS growth for this earnings cycle, along with stubbornly strong inflation readings and the ongoing threat posed by the Delta variant, may cause investors to consider pocketing some of this year’s gains.” He also notes that the upcoming Fed retreat in Wyoming in August could give investors more insight into the Fed’s schedule for tapering off its support of the economy.

“There are some question marks” in the market currently, Lindsey Bell, chief investment strategist at Ally Invest, tells Fortune. “I think we’re going to get that volatility that’s historically expected in the month of August and into September,” she argues, “so I think the remainder of the third quarter could be a little bit rocky. But we have the fourth quarter to look forward to.”

While history may not necessarily be on investors’ side for the month, let’s also keep things in perspective: The S&P 500 is up 17% so far this year, and many on the Street project stocks ending the year higher (JPMorgan, for one, predicts we’ll settle at the 4,600 mark). The S&P, Dow, and Nasdaq were all in the green as of midday Monday.

The coronavirus and tapering worries notwithstanding, stocks should be buoyed by the strength of the consumer and continued strong earnings through year’s end, Bell believes. And while she thinks a correction (a selloff of 10%) would be healthy, dip buyers may continue to step in: “There’s still a lot of money in the marketplace; there’s a lot of liquidity out there; and people are putting their cash into the market when they see some sort of opportunity.”

That would seem to be supported by the data, too, as stocks’ bullish streak in recent months bodes well for further bullishness, LPL’s Ryan Detrick noted on Twitter (see chart).

“Historically when you have a good start to the year, we’re going to have pullbacks. We’d be a buyer; we think this upward trajectory…is still in play,” Detrick said on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Monday. “Buy those dips.”

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