March Almanac & Vital Stats: 2020 & 1980 Inflicted Heavy Damage
By: Jeffrey A. Hirsch & Christopher Mistal
February 22, 2024
As part of the Best Six/Eight Months, March has historically been a solid performing month with DJIA, S&P 500, NASDAQ, Russell 1000 & 2000 all advancing more than 64% of the time with average gains ranging from 0.7% by Russell 2000 to 1.1% by S&P 500. Over the recent 21-year period, March has tended to open positively with gains accumulating over its first three trading days. A brief bout of weakness follows before all indexes begin moving modestly higher into mid-month through month’s end.
Julius Caesar failed to heed the famous warning to “beware the Ides of March” but investors have been served well when they have. Stock prices have had a propensity to decline, sometimes rather precipitously, during the latter days of the month. In March 2020, DJIA plunged nearly 4012 points (-17.3%) during the week ending on the 20th. Solid late-March gains in 2009 and again in 2020 have improved average second half of March performance, but the first half of the month still has more bullish days than the second half (see March 2024 Strategy Calendar).
[Recent 21-Year March Seasonal Pattern Chart]
March packs a rather busy docket. It is the end of the first quarter, which brings with it Quarterly Triple Witching and an abundance of portfolio maneuvers from The Street. March Triple-Witching Weeks have been quite bullish in recent years. But the week after is the exact opposite, DJIA down 22 of the last 36 years—and often down sharply. In 2018, DJIA lost 1413 points (–5.67%) Notable gains during the week after for DJIA of 4.88% in 2000, 3.06% in 2007, 6.84% in 2009, 3.05% in 2011 and a staggering 12.84% in 2020 are the rare exceptions to this historically poor performing timeframe. 
March has a mixed track record in election years. Average performance is hammered lower by steep declines in 2020 and 1980. DJIA and S&P 500 have both advanced in 11 of the last 18 election-year Marchs, but the forementioned declines drag average performance to just 0.2% and 0.4% respectively. NASDAQ, Russell 1000 and Russell 2000 are hit even harder due to fewer years of data. Declines in 2020 were the result of the covid-19 pandemic while 1980’s losses can be attributed to surging inflation that peaked at 14.6%.
[Election Year March Performance]
Saint Patrick’s Day is March’s sole recurring cultural event. Gains on Saint Patrick’s Day have been greater than the day before and the day after. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the patron saint’s holiday that boosts the market and the distraction from the parade down Fifth Avenue that causes equity markets to languish. Or maybe it’s the fact that Saint Pat’s usually falls in historically bullish Triple-Witching Week. 
Whatever the case, since 1950, the S&P 500 posts an average gain of 0.27% on Saint Patrick’s Day (or the next trading day when it falls on a weekend), a gain of 0.06% the day after and the day before averages a 0.12% advance. S&P 500 median values are 0.18% on the day before, 0.23% on Saint Patrick’s Day and 0.05% on the day after. In the ten years when St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday, like this year, since 1950, the day before (Friday) produced an average gain of 0.18%, while Monday averaged –0.03% and the following Tuesday averaged –0.13%.
Good Friday and Easter are in March this year. Historically the longer-term track record of Good Friday (page 100 of STA 2024) is bullish with notable average gains by DJIA, S&P 500, NASDAQ and Russell 2000 on the trading day before. NASDAQ has advanced 21 of the last 23 days before Good Friday. Monday, the day after Easter has exactly the opposite record and is in the running for the worst day after of any holiday. It would not be surprising to see mixed results around Good Friday this year as the day before is also the last trading day of Q1 while the day after is the historically bullish first trading day of April.
[March Vital Stats Table]