How U.S. stock markets have fared in March following a strong February

Mar 1, 2024

U.S. stocks cemented a winning month in February, but the seemingly relentless rally raises the concern of whether investors would take profits in the early days of March. 

When glancing back in time, history shows stocks have had very mixed performance after the S&P 500 SPX rallied over 4% in February, and some initial weakness in the first five trading days of March “wouldn’t be surprising,” according to Bespoke Investment Group. 

The table below shows the historical S&P 500 performance to start March after capping the previous month with over 4% advance. Of the nine prior occurrences since 1953, the first day of March saw an average and median return of 0.26% and 0.23%, respectively, but the large-cap index only closed higher slightly more than half the time, said analysts at Bespoke in a client note viewed by MarketWatch on Friday.


The second day of March has tended to see positive and consistent returns for the S&P 500, with month-to-date gains in eight out of nine instances, the Bespoke table shows. However, the index has tended to decline thereafter. The fourth and the fifth trading day of March each has seen a modest decline in its median performance, which compares with an average gain of 0.47% and 0.3%, respectively, of the time for all other Marches since 1953, according to data compiled by Bespoke.

“Overall, these figures are inconclusive, but some weakness at the beginning of the month wouldn’t be unexpected,” said Bespoke analysts.

U.S. stocks were kicking off March in a subdued mood on Friday, but the Nasdaq Composite COMP continued to outperform after settling at its record high for the first time since 2021 in the previous session. The S&P 500 was rising 0.6%, to 5,128, while the Nasdaq was up 1% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA was edging up 0.2%, according to FactSet data. 

See: U.S. stocks are off to their best start to a year since 2019 — and the rally is not just about the ‘Magnificent Seven’

Historical trends also tell a complicated story about the monthly performance in March. Long-term returns for the S&P 500 have been “middling” in March since 1928, with “unremarkable gains” compared with other months, said Bespoke analysts (see chart below). 

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 has had ”very weak results” in the Marches that came off a hot streak, meaning stocks surged in both Januaries and Februaries. In the nine similar instances since 1928, the large-cap index suffered a “painful” average monthly decline of 2.87%, according to Bespoke data. 


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