US Markets

Get ready: September is usually the worst month for stocks

Get ready: September is usually the worst month for stocks
Get ready: September is usually the worst month for stocks

The calendar may still say "summer" but everyone else is saying "fall," a word that takes on a whole new meaning for the market when it comes to September.

In the week ahead, there's also a world seemingly at war to think about, more on the economy and some other bits and bites to consider.

September and stocks: Summer's over

During a year in which the market has defied most investors' expectations, it's worthwhile to consider that the worst month of the year is ahead.

With the Dow industrials up 11.3 percent year to date the boasting a 10.6 percent gain [not to mention the Nasdaq's meteoric 19.6 percent surge] now may be a good time to take some risk off the table.

While the past is only sometimes prologue, September historically has been the market's worst month. That's true over the past 100 years and the past 50 years. In fact, on a 100-year basis, September is the only month that has a losing record. Courtesy of Bespoke Investment Group:

Bespoke's Paul Hickey's words of wisdom: "For the month of September, if you started with $100 fifty years ago and only owned the S&P 500 during the month of September, your $100 would be worth ... wait for it ... just $71 today. ... Don't get too down, though! Once we move past September, we enter the fourth quarter, which has easily been the strongest 3-month period for the market over the last 20 years."

What's happening in the world

Aside from the potential for a September slide, the market will be focused on what's happening beyond Wall Street.

Saber rattling that stretches from North Korea to the U.S. and other hot spots could unnerve a market that just made it through a pretty volatile August.

Aside from the international tensions, President Donald Trump and Congress are expected to begin in earnest negotiations over a serious tax reform package, the details of which remain to be seen.

One thing to watch: Money has been making its way out of U.S. stocks and into international funds. If the tensions remain, that trend could accelerate and pose further damage to the domestic market.

A rough weekend of North Korea escalating its threats affected markets, with European and Asian indexes all posting losses during light trading Monday.

The road to 3 percent

Trump has pledged that his pro-growth agenda of lower taxes and regulation combined with a boost to infrastructure spending will shoot the economy from a mediocre 2 percent range up to 3 percent and even 4 percent.

Up until recently, those numbers seemed over-ambitious. However, if current trends progress that just might happen. Second-quarter GDP last week got ramped up to 3 percent and the third quarter is tracking above that, at least according to an Atlanta Fed that is projecting growth to come in at 3.2 percent.

A quick look at the economic road map for the week ahead:

Tuesday: factory orders.

Wednesday: mortgage application, services PMI, ISM nonmanufacturing index.

Thursday: jobless claims, productivity, labor costs.

Friday: wholesale inventories, consumer credit.

Of the group, Thursday's productivity number could be the most important. Also, keep a watch out Wednesday when the Fed releases its Beige Book report, which gives a periodic economic update from the central bank's eight districts.

A North Korea Scud-B missile is displayed at the Korea War Memorial Museum on August 26, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea.
Chung Sung-Jun | Getty Images

The last word

Investors are rightly concerned about the threats to global stability that North Korea poses. Andrew Kenningham, chief global economist at Capital Economics, poses these six questions, including one key investment conclusion. The following is an abridged version, though the quotes are direct:

1. Is this really anything new? Recent developments are not completely new ... What has changed is that the technology is more powerful."

2. Will the situation escalate? The risk of conflict, though (hopefully) still small, is clearly growing.

3. Will the West impose new sanctions against North Korea? The US is also likely to tighten its sanctions regime ... So far, though, these sanctions have not prevented Kim Jong Un from pursuing his nuclear program.

4. Will the U.S. put more pressure on China? Yes, but with little effect.

5. What would be the economic effects of a war? An armed conflict would, first and foremost, be a human tragedy, but it would also have huge economic consequences. The effect on South Korea itself could be devastating.

6. How will markets react? As long as outright war is avoided, global asset prices are likely to prove resilient. This has been the case during previous geopolitical events, such as the Cuban missile crisis, when war was narrowly avoided.