Why You Should Sell The FTSE 100 In May And Go Away

The latest breaking news about offshore trusts and the release of a number of prominent politicians’ tax returns have given us a welcome break from the all-consuming media campaigns from the respective EU In and Out camps. Personally, I’m finding it difficult to actually assess the main reasons for staying in, or indeed voting to leave as I’m swamped with stories circulating in the press highlighting the potential ramifications and/or benefits of leaving.

Better together?

Indeed, only yesterday The International Monetary Fund, one of the pillars of the global economic order, charged with overseeing the international monetary and financial system, waded into the debate.

In short, the organisation believes that if the 23 June referendum in the UK were to produce a vote in favour of leaving the EU, it would expect negotiations on post-exit arrangements to be protracted. This, it warned “could weigh heavily on confidence and investment, all the while increasing financial market volatility“.

Additionally, the IMF felt that a UK exit from the EU would “disrupt and reduce mutual trade and financial flows” and restrict benefits from economic co-operation and integration, such as those resulting from economies of scale.

However, the Fund said that domestic demand, boosted by lower energy prices and a buoyant property market, would help to offset the impact on UK growth ahead of the EU referendum.

With all of this uncertainty in the public domain, like it or not, as an investor I couldn’t be more aware of the potential impact that the build-up to the referendum could have on stock markets as the day of reckoning approaches. After all. Mr Market hates uncertainty.

Sell in May?

Selling in May and going away can be used as an investment strategy for stocks or indices based on the theory that the period from November to April inclusive has significantly stronger growth on average than the other months of the year.

In such strategies, holdings are sold at the start of May and the proceeds held in cash before buying again in the autumn, typically around November time.

However, as we saw in 2015 with the General election approaching in the UK, there were many sectors such as utilities and housebuilders that were under pressure. Investors were uncertain of the outcome of the election and the potential impact of differences in policies such as the mansion tax. Of course, when the Conservatives won an overall majority, these sectors bounced back strongly.

Turning to the chart below, it’s quite clear that the best thing to have done in May 2015 was to have sold the FTSE 100 as it breached 7,000 points and to have stayed out of the market completely. The market has slipped steadily, even entering bear market territory in the first quarter.

And although we’ve seen a recovery of sorts with the price of oil now well off its lows, I still think that there’s plenty of potential to worry investors going forward, the impact of which could well be amplified in such a nervous market.

Will you grow richer in 2016?

So it could well be wise to take some money off of the table as we approach 23 June. However, with uncertainty comes opportunity, and as investors we should be ready to pounce on the right opportunities as they arise.

While it’s true that some traders will make their fortune by getting the call correct, some could find that they've lost their shirts.

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Dave Sullivan has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.