Trading terms: The Santa Rally

Will the Santa Rally result in its traditional December boost to global markets?

Santa Claus or Father Christmas with his finger on his lips, saying ssh.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Children may already be compiling their Christmas lists, but traders also want a gift in the form of a “Santa Rally”. When this phrase was first coined in 1972, the rally only referred to the stock market’s performance during the final trading days between Christmas and the New Year. But in recent years the term has broadened to cover the entire month of December.

The theory is that festive cheer and holiday household spending make the markets more optimistic. Ben Laidler of eToro also thinks that outperformance in December could be due to markets anticipating a new flow of cash from investors in January.

Whatever the reason, there does seem to be strong evidence of a December effect, especially for smaller shares. Laidler notes that over the past 50 years, the FTSE 250 mid-cap index has returned an average of 2.7%. However, other markets have done well, with the S&P 500 putting in an above-average performance of 1.7%.

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Interestingly, the Hong Kong stock market has been the global top performer, with an increase of 3% over the last half-century, despite the fact that Chinese New Year, which takes place between late January and late February, is the key event.

Of course, there are a few exceptions to the festive cheer. IBEX, the main Spanish index, has historically underperformed in December, with a miserly 0.6%. And even in the US and UK, traders have occasionally received a lump of coal in their stockings, with the S&P 500 finishing December lower than it began around a quarter of the time (as it did last year when it dropped by 5.9%). Still, in general, December is a good month. Laidler says that global equities have returned an average of 1.8% since 1972.

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Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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