Last Updated on June 30, 2022 by Oddmund Groette
The Holiday effect system in the stock market is a well-known anomaly and seasonality. Is there a way to profit from the holiday effect seasonality? Are there any holiday effects in the stock markets? If so, which holiday is the best?
The holiday effect strategy seems to be significant for Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In this article, we look at seven different holiday effects and seasonalities in the US stock market. We look at how the S&P 500 performs before and around these holidays.
What is the holiday effect trading strategy in the stock market?
The pre-holiday effect can be used as seasonal trading strategies. The holiday effect can also be called a calendar effect, which tends to give increased returns in stocks over a short period of time. These situations tend to happen around holidays, like for example the 4th of July. The days before the holiday, but often also the days right after the holiday, are assumed to show consistent positive patterns and returns.
The holiday effect trading system is widely analyzed and well known. Despite this, we know very few traders who actually trade the holiday patterns. Is there a logical reason for this? In this article, we try to find the most profitable patterns.
To those who believe such an effect will make them rich, we have to disappoint you. The holiday effect is tiny but still abnormal in a few of them. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme but could be a useful addition to your arsenal of trading strategies.
The holiday effect is not only happening in the US. This is a phenomenon that has been documented in multiple countries across the globe.
Fundamental reasons for the holiday effect in the stock market
Why is there a holiday effect in the stock market?
One reason could be lower liquidity as many go on holiday. When liquidity drops, it creates a “vacuum” that means buyers need to pay up to buy shares.
Why would they pay more for the shares? The reason could be more optimism around holiday times.
Another reason could be the lack of macro news. When there is no macro news, the stock market tends to drift upwards. Volatility normally picks up when there is bad news, rarer when there is good news.
A third reason could be that participants sell their risky assets prior to the holiday season in order to reduce risk. This, of course, could lead to selling pressure and thus lower prices ahead of the holiday season. When the sellers are done, the prices gradually drift up again. As mentioned above, this creates a “vacuum”.
How to measure the holiday effect on stocks
In this article, we look at the S&P 500 because it’s the most important index in the world. We use both the ETF with the ticker code SPY but we also use ^gspc to look at data earlier than 1993. Both are downloaded for free from Yahoo!finance.
Some traders might disagree with how we test the holiday effect anomalies. That’s fine. There are no definite answers and others might have something that works better.
As always, we are always happy if others are willing to share their insights and knowledge in the comments section.
S&P 500 returns by month since 1960:
Before we start we want to have a look at the monthly returns per month in the S&P 500. This is to make a benchmark to measure the outperformance of the holiday effect.
Why is this important?
It’s important because some months are much better than others. Is the specific holiday effect good because of the pattern in that month or vice versa?
Nevertheless, here are the monthly returns in the S&P 500 from 1960 until 2021:
- January: 1.07%
- February: 0.08%
- March: 0.96%
- April: 1.56%
- May: 0.23%
- June: -0.01%
- July: 0.71%
- August: 0.22%
- September: -0.61%
- October: 0.94%
- November: 1.57%
- December: 1.33%
Clearly, the best period is from October until the end of April. This period has practically made all the gains in the market over the last 60 years. This effect we have previously documented in this article:
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday effect:
The first holiday of the new year is the Martin Luther King holiday. The holiday is always on the third Monday in January and the stock market is closed to observe the day. The earliest date for the holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21.
Let’s test the following hypothesis:
- We go long at the close on the first calendar day of the month which is higher than 11.
- We exit at the calendar day 21 or more.
The equity curve looks like this in SPY:
The stock market seems to get very little help from the murder of Martin Luther King, even though January is one of the best months over time. There are 29 trades, the average gain is -0.05%, the win ratio is 57%, the profit factor is 0.9, and the max drawdown is 11%.
We have made a more detailed study about The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Holiday Effect In Trading.
George Washington Day/President’s Day holiday effect:
The second holiday of the year is President’s Day, officially called Washington’s Birthday, and is always on the third Monday in February. As with Martin Luther King Day, the February holiday falls between the calendar day 15 to 21.
We test the holiday effect in February this way:
- We go long at the close on the first calendar day of the month that is higher than 11.
- We exit at the calendar day 21 or more.
On the ETF with the ticker code SPY we get this equity curve:
The holiday effect is absent in February. There are 29 trades, the average gain is -0.24%, the win ratio is 52%, the profit factor is 0.77, and the max drawdown is 9%.
We have made a more detailed study about George Washington Day/President’s Day Holiday Effect In Trading.
The Easter holiday effect:
The Easter holiday effect is one of the better ones.
Please read our full backtest on this link:
- The Easter Holiday Effect In Trading (Holy Thursday – Best Day Of The Year For Stocks?)
The Memorial Day holiday effect:
Memorial Day, the day to honor the men and women who died while serving in the US military, is always on the last Monday of May.
Let’s test the following hypothesis:
- We go long at the close the Wednesday prior to Memorial Day.
- We exit at the close on the first trading day of June.
In SPY the Amibroker equity curve looks like this:
We have made a more detailed study about The Memorial Day Holiday Effect In Trading (Backtest).
The 4th of July holiday effect (Independence Day effect):
The 4th of July is a public holiday and the markets are closed. If the 4th of July is on a weekend, the markets are closed on the following Monday.
How does the stock market perform up to Independence day?
Let’s test the following hypothesis:
- We buy the S&P 500 at the close of the second last trading day of June. For example, we buy at the close on the 29th of June so we are long on the open of the last trading day of June.
- We sell six days after we bought. The effect seems to last a few days after the holidays, thus we keep the position a bit longer.
Now, before considering the strategy, keep in mind that June is a poor month for stocks. Additionally, there is a strong tendency for the markets to perform much better in the last days of the month and the first few days of the new month. Please check out this article:
The strategy returns this equity curve in SPY:
The returns per year look like this:
We have made a more detailed study about The 4th of July Holiday Effect In Trading (Independence Day Effect – Backtest).
The Labor Day holiday effect:
Labor Day is always on the first Monday of September. What has the performance been around this day?
Let’s the following strategy:
- We buy the S&P 500 at the close of the second last trading day of August. For example, we buy at the close on the 30th of August so we are long on the open of the last trading day of August.
- We sell at the close on the first Tuesday of September (after the first Monday).
The equity curve in Amibroker looks like this (100 000 compounded since the start):
The result is pretty poor.
We tried both buying earlier and later but the results seem pretty random.
Keep in mind that September is historically the worst month of the year:
We have made a more detailed study about The Labor Day Holiday Effect In Trading (Backtest And Strategy).
The Thanksgiving holiday effect in the S&P 500:
What about the famous turkey celebrations in November?
Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November and began as a day of blessing for the harvest in the preceding year. The day is a non-trading day and the next day, Friday, is only half a trading day where the markets close at 1 pm Eastern Time. The Friday is called Black Friday because of its importance for the retail sector.
- We go long at the close the Monday prior to Thanksgiving.
- We exit at the close on the first trading day of December.
By testing on SPY Amibroker returns this equity curve:
The Thanksgiving effect has been pretty consistent since 1960 (ticker code is ^gspc – the cash index of the S&P 500):
We have made a more detailed study about The Thanksgiving Holiday Effect In Trading (Black Friday Effect).
The Thanksgiving holiday effect in the retail sector (Black Friday effect):
Because of Black Friday, which has developed into a consumer bonanza, it might be interesting to check the performance of the retail sector. We test by using the Fidelity Select Retailing fund (FSRPX). We use the same criteria as we did in the Thanksgiving holiday effect for the S&P 500.
The retailers perform slightly better than the S&P 500:
Keep in mind, though, that November and December are strong months in the stock market.
The most wonderful time of the year: The Christmas holiday effect (Santa Claus rally)
One of the best periods of the year is just after Christmas and the first days of the next year. We have covered this in a separate article where we tested the end of year rally in stocks:
In practice, this is the same as the turn of the month strategy.
Let’s make a twist where we go long at the close of the first trading day after the 20th of December and sell on the first trading day of the new year.
The backtest in Amibroker yields this equity curve since 1960:
We have made a more detailed study about The End Of The Year Rally In Stocks (Santa Claus Rally/Effect Strategy).
Relevant articles about seasonalities and anomalies:
There are almost endless anomalies and seasonalities in the stock market, and also in other markets. Most of them are not tradeable, but some are. We have covered several of these:
- Seasonal trading strategies
- Free trading strategies
- The Russell 2000 rebalancing strategy (end of June rally/effect)
- Day of week seasonality in the S&P 500
- End of month rally/effect in stocks
- End of month strategy in the S&P 500
- Monthly seasonalities in long-term Treasuries (TLT)
The tests in this article were done in Amibroker. If you would like to know how to code the holiday effects in Amibroker, you can order the code here and at the same time get the code for at least 60 other strategies we have published on this website:
Conclusions about the holiday effect in trading:
Of the seven holiday anomalies and seasonalities we did in this article, only three seem to be tradeable: Independence day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
However, all the strategies can be changed and tweaked. We have some ideas to improve the three best holiday seasonalities, something we will come back to later.
The holiday effect in stocks is for real.