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EDITIONS
 Friday, 13 September, 2002, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
Salvation time for slump-struck investors
Graph showing FTSE's performance since May

Speechless over the performance of your Vodafone shares?

Shocked by the collapse of British Energy stock?

David Schwartz
David Schwartz: Historical evidence

Relief for investors is at hand.

At 1435 GMT on Saturday the City storm which has sent shares to their lowest level since the mid-1990s will abate, to be followed by a winter of investor content.

For then, 10 horses will leap form their stalls on the 226th St Leger, the oldest horse race in history, and the subject of one of the most famous City idioms.

"Sell in May and go away, and come back on St Leger Day," finance folklore has it.

'Historical evidence'

Sceptical?

Certainly the first half of the adage has proved right this year - London shares were at close of trading on Friday worth 22% less than they were at the beginning of May.

Go away in May...
How FTSE 100 moved, 1 May to St Leger Day
2002: -23.4%
2001: -15.0%
2000: +4.3%
1999: -4.5%
1998: -13.7%

As for hopes of a post-St Leger recovery, stock market historian David Schwartz is one who sees the autumn presenting investors with a richer harvest.

"There is good historical evidence that there is some truth in the phrase," he told BBC News Online.

"An investor who over the last two decades of the 20th century put his money into shares on 1 November, and took it out in April, would see on average gains of about 12% a year.

"Someone who did the reverse would see less than 1% a year. And this during a period recognised as one of the great bull markets.

"OK the November date does not tally exactly with the St Leger. And it does not work every year - there have been some great June rallies.

"But there is something in it."

Fundamental focus

Not that the correlation is apparent to all observers.

Nigel Thomas
Nigel Thomas: Idiom "is not a bad indicator"

Indeed, a trawl round City analysts, long practised in negotiating headline economic data and corporate small print, revealed many who consider the calendar an inappropriate factor on which to base investor advice.

"It is not a phrase we rely on," said David Page at Investec.

"We look at fundamentals. What, for instance, the war on Iraq might mean for equities. What the rising price of oil might do to US, French or Japanese economies."

'The season'

Yet there were many City gurus who see some truth in the idiom, including Nigel Thomas, the star fund manager who acrimoniously split with ABN Amro to join Framlington this week.

...come back on St Leger Day
How FTSE 100 moved, St Leger Day to 1 May
2001-02: +1.9%
2000-01: -9.6%
1999-00: +1.1%
1998-99: +28.0%
1997-98: +20.9%

"It's not a bad indicator, not a bad old saying," Mr Thomas said.

"It dates from the old days when stock brokers would take weeks off in the summer - go grouse shooting and not come back until the autumn."

David Schwartz said: "It was the time when sons were directed either into the army or the church, while the more difficult son was hived off to the City.

"And when the season came - rowing at Henley, racing at Ascot, salmon fishing invitations and so on - they would just take months off."

City workers were more likely to be seen at river bank than merchant bank, on Speyside rather than Cheapside, as the near unemployable pursued the deliciously edible.

Dividend factor

But how has the phrase held true in recent years, when ability has played a greater part in City recruitment policy, and early-rising, adrenalin-packed financiers have lacked the time, if not the money, to take four month breaks.

Millenary winning the 2000 St. Leger Stakes
The St Leger: The best bet?

Mr Thomas said the timing of dividend and interest payments had helped stimulate autumn share rises.

"March and September were the big times for payouts on government bonds," Mr Thomas said.

"Many investment funds too pay out quarterly.

"So you would have big chunks of cash flowing back into the City. Not all the money would be invested in shares, but a big proportion would."

Investor options

As investors prepare for their latest payouts, what the chances of this year's St Leger heralding better equity times?

Mr Schwartz is positive: "Stock markets just do not head in the same direction for months and months on end. I think we are in for a bit of a better time."

Mr Page said the outlook depended largely on the prospects of conflict with Iraq, which threatened hopes for an end to the stock market declines which, otherwise, seemed a likely outcome.

Investors fed up of pundits, and journalists, might look to the race itself for redemption.

Bandari seems the punters' choice, standing at 7-4 favourite.

But all would be well advised to remember the saint after which the race was named.

St Leger, a French bishop martyred in 678 AD, is now invoked against blindness.

And clear vision will be the investor's best friend in war-threatened months to come.


Analysis

IN DEPTH
The Markets: 9:29 UK
FTSE 100 5760.40 -151.7
Dow Jones 11380.99 -119.7
Nasdaq 2243.78 -28.9
FTSE delayed by 15 mins, Dow and Nasdaq by 20 mins
Launch marketwatch
View market data
See also:

13 Sep 02 | Business
05 Aug 02 | Business
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