Election Year Suggests a More Subdued ‘24

In this article, Russ Koesterich discusses why equity performance in 2024 may be more muted and warrant more focused positioning across segments of the market.

Key takeaways

  • Just as 2023 market returns proved to align with seasonal patterns, there was another underlying factor that impacted performance, the political cycle.
  • Since 1926, year three of the election cycle has proven to be the strongest – with a median return that is double the average of the other three years.
  • With 2024 being an election year, these patterns are worth consideration. While one small part of the broader outlook, history suggests more muted equity performance.

Last January, I authored a piece that discussed the tendency for market performance following a down year (2022), to be either very good or very bad, but rarely average, with the biggest source of variation being inflation. Performance in 2023 has conformed to historical trends with the S&P 500 up over +25% through year-end and the tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite +43%. In addition, while seasonal effects on stock markets can be often overstated, 2023 reminded investors why it’s worth paying some attention to the calendar. Stocks rallied in January, corrected in late summer, before rallying strongly in November. 2023 returns have mostly confirmed both historical tendencies and seasonal patterns.

There is another, longer-cycle that investors also watch: the election cycle. As with seasonality, the impact can be exaggerated. But while rarely the biggest factor in driving returns, with an election year approaching it is worth revisiting how stock returns correlate with the political cycle.