McClellan Chart In Focus: Presidential Cycle Pattern and an Election Year – By Tom McClellan


Chart In Focus

Now that we are less than 12 months from the next presidential election, it is appropriate to talk about how the stock market typically behaves during an election year.  The short answer is that election years are up, on average, although not as strongly as the 3rd year of a presidential term.  And when an election year sees a down stock market, as in 2000 or 2008, it is bad for the party in power.

This week’s chart shows our Presidential Cycle Pattern, which is an average of the SP500’s behavior over the 4 years of each presidential term.  I choose to use a different definition of “year”, rather than the normal calendar year starting on January 1.  I instead employ a count which starts each year on Nov. 1, to better align with the timing of the presidential election.  I have found that the stock market starts reacting to whoever gets elected almost immediately, rather than waiting for the Jan. 20 inauguration to start reacting.

Generally speaking, the stock market goes sideways during the first two years of a president’s term in office.  This is especially true in the first term of a new president.  When a new president takes office, he typically spends the first 2 years “discovering” that things are even worse than he told us during the campaign, and that the “only solution” is whatever package of tax hikes/cuts and/or spending increases he hopes to get approved by Congress.  Investors tend to get bummed out by hearing that conditions are worse than they thought, and so they are not in a mood to bid up stock prices.

Then after the mid-term elections, the new president typically spends the final two years of the term declaring victory for having fixed everything, and running for reelection.  Investors respond by feeling better about hearing that everything is better now, and they tend to bid up the stock market during the 3rd year.  Election years are iffier, because they hold the risk that we all might have to get used to some new President taking office, and so election years are still mostly positive, but not as much as 3rd years.

When President Trump won the election in November 2016, the stock market initially had a negative reaction, with SP500 futures getting locked limit down (5%) overnight, but then rallied strongly the next day and beyond.  Curiously, though, the pattern of the SP500 during President Trump’s first 2 years did not correlate very well at all to the Presidential Cycle Pattern (PCP).  Everyone seems to agree that President Trump is a “different sort of president”, and maybe that is the explanation for the curious lack of correlation.

Then starting after the spike bottom on Dec. 24, 2018, the SP500 started correlating really tightly with the PCP, as if a switch had been flipped and prices got locked into what the script says.  Maybe President Trump is becoming more of a “normal” type of president now.  Naahhh, that cannot be it.

This next chart zooms in closer on just the immediate relationship between the SP500 and the PCP:

Presidential Cycle Pattern

It allows us to see that even as the correlation between the two has tightened up a lot, there are still moments when prices get off track from what the script says.  Sometimes that makes sense, as a news item moves prices in a way that is different from the historical record.  Other times are problems with the PCP, like mid-October when the PCP shows a big downward skew courtesy of the effects of the October 1987 crash on the average price data.

We are now in December, which has a record of being a really strong month in terms of seasonality.  That is true also in the year before the election, although it is important to note that December’s strength tends to be concentrated in the last half of the month.  The first half of December sees a pause/correction, and that is what we appear to be going through now.

Such pauses are healthy, and helpful to the sustaining of an uptrend.  They set everyone to muttering about how the bull market is over, and prices are going down, and the sky is falling, and we’re all going to die I TELL YOU!!  Once that is accomplished, prices can start higher again, and they should start higher into January, assuming that the SP500 continues to follow its average pattern shown in the PCP.

Tom McClellan
Editor, The McClellan Market Report

Related Charts

May 18, 2018
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What Happened to the Presidential Cycle?
Nov 10, 2016
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The Market, Under a New President
Nov 05, 2010
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Entering the 3rd Presidential Year




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About the author

Sherman and Marian's son Tom McClellan has done extensive analytical spreadsheet development for the stock and commodities markets, including the synthesizing of the four-year Presidential Cycle Pattern. He has fine tuned the rules for interrelationships between financial markets to provide leading indications for important market and economic data. Tom is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he studied aerospace engineering, and he served as an Army helicopter pilot for 11 years. He began his own study of market technical analysis while still in the Army, and discovered ways to expand the use of his parents' indicators to forecast future market turning points. Tom views the movements of prices in the financial market through the eyes of an engineer, which allows him to focus on what the data really say rather than interpreting events according to the same "conventional wisdom" used by other analysts. In 1993, he left the Army to join his father in pursuing a new career doing this type of analysis. Tom and Sherman spent the next 2 years refining their analysis techniques and laying groundwork. In April 1995 they launched their newsletter, The McClellan Market Report, an 8 page report covering the stock, bond, and gold markets, which is published twice a month. They utilize the unique indicators they have developed to present their view of the market's structure as well as their forecasts for future trend direction and the timing of turning points. A Daily Edition was added in February 1998 to give subscribers daily updates on their indicators and also provide market position indications for stocks, bonds and gold. Their subscribers range from individual investors to professional fund managers. Tom serves as editor of both publications, and runs the newsletter business from its location in Lakewood, WA.