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This is what could bring back the turbulence

Stocks are entering the time of year when market gains are historically the lowest and volatility can be the highest.

When traders talk about the "sell in May, go away" phenomenon, they are actually talking about the six months from May to October when the market's performance on average lags the other six months. Over the past 50 years, the S&P 500 has averaged a smallish 0.9 percent gain in the period versus the 6.3 percent average gain of November through April, according to Bespoke. As for May itself, the Dow has been virtually flat, up 0.1 percent on average over the past 100 years, and even flatter, up just an average 0.05 percent, over the past 20 years.

The challenges for the period this year include potential Fed rate hikes, the softish economy and the added intrigue of political risk — both from the U.S. presidential election and the U.K. referendum vote on whether to remain in the European union. As for the coming week, stocks face the April employment report on Friday, earnings reports from about a fifth of the S&P 500 companies and speeches from at least a half dozen Fed officials.

"We're back near cycle highs for the valuations, and as we look forward at the coming calendar over the next three to six months, we see a lot of potential catalysts for volatility and pullbacks, depending on how things work out," said Daniel Suzuki, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch equity strategist. "In June, you have what we think is a decent probability of a Fed rate hike and you have the EU referendum. Also around that time, you're going to be getting the final presidential candidates. I think as the election debate heats up, it definitely has the potential to add a lot of volatility to the markets depending on how polarizing the candidates are."

So far this year, the S&P 500 is up 1 percent after a sharp double-digit sell-off and the stunning reversal since February. The S&P 500 Friday ended April at 2,065, with a slight gain of 0.3 percent for the month. For the November through April period, ending Friday, the S&P 500 was about 0.7 percent higher.

Suzuki expects the S&P to end the year at 2,000, but he sees reasons it could grind higher before selling off. One is that there is an under-positioning in equities among fund managers, who continued to build cash even as stocks soared in February and March. There is also a lack of positive sentiment for the market, and that is a contrarian indicator.

Julian Emanuel, equity and derivatives strategist at UBS, said he had been thinking the market could avoid "sell in May" this year, but he now expects to see it at least take a pause. "There is a void here. We're into the back half of earnings season. The Fed doesn't (officially) speak again until it meets in June, and you've got international and political risk. Yet those events are still six weeks away, so there's really a void during the month of May that, given the distance we've gone and the fact the earnings season is validating our dismal expectations, it's very difficult to see how stocks really can do anything other...


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