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5 Signs Investors Will Get a Lump of Coal Instead of the Santa Rally

Just like little boys and girls now hanging their stockings by the chimney with care, many investors are hoping for a little holiday magic after a hard year. Unfortunately, it’s much more likely that there will be a lump of coal waiting for traders by Christmas than any so-called “Santa rally” that will boost their portfolio.

The Santa rally is one of those seasonal trends that market-timers like to tout. The theory is that year-end rebalancing adds to buying pressure across most asset classes until the turn of the year. Others think it is a boost caused by year-end bonuses being pushed into the market, or that it is purely psychological thanks to the general goodwill of the season (and the fact that many bears and short-side traders are on vacation).

But the idea of a market rally every December is suspect even in a good year — and particularly troublesome in 2011.

Here are five signs that the so-called Santa rally will not transpire this holiday season:

Dangerous December Generalizations

In a 2008 column on this year-end phenomenon, columnist Mark Hulbert crunched numbers and found that December’s “average” strength fails to account for severe volatility. “That’s sort of like the man whose head is in the oven and whose feet are in the freezer and who, on average, feels just fine,” Hulbert wrote.

Yes, the market generally goes up. How else did we get from Dow 2,500 in 1991 to Dow 11,800 at present day? And generally the market also goes up more in December. Since 1896, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has tacked on an average 1.2% each December compared to 0.5% gains averaged in the other 12 months.

But that’s not entirely fair. Taking each month separately, June and July have slightly better average monthly returns than December — so much for “sell in May and go away!”

In short, investing based on generalizations is a dangerous tactic. Try selling investors on that “average” long-term performance of the Dow right now, and you probably will get laughed out of the room. Why would you manage your portfolio in December based on the same flawed logic?

Debt Deadlines Loom

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the troubled Congressional supercommittee in Washington have a heck of a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, political gridlock and intransigent citizenry on both sides of the Atlantic are going to make any substantive changes very difficult.

This “pressure cooker” could yield results, but more realistic is that brinksmanship and dangerous rhetoric are going to spook the market. Just look at the summer debt ceiling debate that ultimately resulted in a downgrade to the U.S. credit rating and caused the market to plunge 15% in just a few weeks across late July and early August.

Too many big issues are at play this holiday season for the markets to get their typical break from big news that could sour attitudes on Wall Street. Even if a deal does get reached at the 11th hour in Washington or the euro zone can break through its current spiral of debt-related problems, the market might react severely in the days before any such deals are struck.

Red-Hot Inflation

If you want to know the biggest risk to family budgets, look no further than the traditional Thanksgiving feast. The typical meal of turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings is up a whopping 13% this year — an increase that is representative of rampant inflation that continues to weigh on American families.

Spending does appear to be mending on the surface, with some reports indicating consumers may be allocating more towards shopping this December. However, the modest 2.8% jump in holiday season expenditures projected by the National Retail Federation is basically on par with annualized inflationary trends.

Keep this in mind when you see all those positive headlines. Just because things cost more doesn’t mean consumers feel any more confident about the future or that businesses are seeing growth in profits along with their rising costs.

Hard Landing in China?

Throughout the “recovery” in 2009 and 2010, emerging markets like China and Brazil pulled the weight of the global economy as developed nations struggled. However, there are serious concerns that even these regions are going to be hit by harder times in the very near future.

Brazil already is struggling under rampant inflation as commodity prices in this resource-rich nation soar, and the iShares MSCI Brazil Index ETF (NYSE:EWZ) is down a stunning 23% so far this year.

Meanwhile, China has seen some numbers that appear to show a slowdown in the nation’s economy. None alone are call for alarm — a shortfall in the purchasing manager’s index for the manufacturing sector, a reduction in 2012 GDP forecast to “only” 9.2% and similar data. However, in early November, Japanese investment bank Nomura shook investors by saying it saw a 1-in-3 chance that China GDP will shrink to half of its current rate soon in a so-called “hard landing.”

With so much trouble in America and Europe, it won’t take much from Asia to shake U.S. markets to the core.

Systemic Risks Remain

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom out there. Some decent headlines these days have emerged that might cheer investors. Modest downticks in jobless claims, rises in home construction numbers and generally good Q3 earnings give traders hope.

However, they do not change the broader narrative of the past few years. Wall Street and Main Street continue to suffer from persistently high unemployment, banks that can’t find their way and a housing market that remains in critical condition.

Until unemployment moves down significantly, the backlog of bank-owned properties is drawn down and home prices move upward, there will be no rally — Santa or otherwise.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com. Write him at editor@investorplace.com, follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media, https://investorplace.com/2011/11/5-signs-no-santa-rally-for-investors/.

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