MARKETS

It's not just the catchphrase that makes this good advice right now. Multiple warning signs are flashing, even as the market continues to climb, writes MoneyShow's Howard R. Gold, also of The Independent Agenda.

Ah, it’s spring again, when we put winter coats in storage and try to keep the pollen from making us sneeze. And it’s when some of us lighten up on stock.

That’s right, it’s “sell in May and go away” time on Wall Street. And though the calendar hasn’t quite turned, I think now’s a good time to lock in some of your gains.

That doesn’t mean selling everything—I can’t stress that enough for the many “black or white” thinkers among you—but it does mean trimming your stock holdings, or shifting some of your equity allocation to more defensive areas.

“Sell in May and go away” is really a way to lower risk at what is traditionally the rockiest time of the year for stocks. And this year, besides the usual seasonal considerations, some fundamental and technical indicators suggest it may be prudent or investors to pull in their horns.

First of all, the economy has hit a speed bump. Although housing and auto sales remain bright spots, an uptick in jobless claims followed the horrendous March employment report.

In March, retail sales showed their biggest drop since last June, and the University of Michigan-Thomson Reuters consumer confidence index fell to a nine-month low. The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index declined 0.1% in March, its first negative number since last summer.

 “The biggest challenge remains weak demand, due to nervous consumer sentiment and slow income growth,” said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein.

But the rollback of the payroll tax holiday and cuts from the dreaded sequester may be taking their toll. Also on the horizon: the Affordable Care Act, whose major provisions go into effect next year, creating additional uncertainty.

Meanwhile, as of Monday, 103 companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings. About half had beaten analysts’ earnings per share estimates, but fewer than 50% had topped revenue projections. “Corporate America has seen better,” summed up MarketWatch’s Jonathan Burton.

Clearly, four years into an economic recovery, earnings growth is slowing. So, the first quarter was the strongest for stock buybacks since Birinyi Associates started tracking them in 1985. If you can’t boost EPS naturally, you can always reduce the number of shares outstanding, right?

And then there are the technical indicators, which are worrying even bullish analysts. Ron Meisels, who has been publishing Montreal-based Phases & Cycles for more than four decades, believes that the market’s “major uptrend is intact,” but that a correction is coming.

Meisels recently warned subscribers that “time is running out. The S&P 500 is overbought and the index is at a distance above its 200-day Moving Average that is associated with pullbacks.”

The 200-day moving average—an average of prices over the last 200 trading days— is used by technical analysts to determine where the market’s support levels are.

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