One of the ways I use seasonality when discussing portfolio construction is in timing the entry into sector positions. This is particularly helpful for investors who want - or need - to have similar sector weights to the benchmark S&P 500.
Most managers stick pretty close to the S&P 500 weights.
Staying close to the index weight helps keep managers from significantly underperforming the market. But, with active investors losing assets to ETFs and bonds, many managers are adjusting weights above and below the index in order to generate excess return and improve peer ranks. As a result, most managers are running roughly 20% above or below the index weight, which, in the case of healthcare, is just shy of 12% of the SPX.
Heading into elections, this spread provides an opportunity for investors to capitalize on shifts in institutional exposure up or down. Such an approach requires investors to not only consider what to buy, but to also when to buy.
September through November is historically volatile.
One of the most dynamic periods for market returns is the 3 months starting September and ending November. Historically, markets post some of their biggest moves heading into fall, with the S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA:SPY) offering a standard deviation of 11.7% over the past 10 years.
While healthcare offers lower volatility, it's also prone to swings through November. Particularly, during election years.
The best seasonal large cap healthcare stocks
In order to find those large cap healthcare stocks with the best seasonality through November, I screened the Seasonal Investor healthcare universe. Overall, six stocks finished the period higher in at least eight of the past ten years.
The first is Aetna (NYSE:AET), which has finished November an average 3.54% higher than it begins September. The significant drop of nearly 50% in 2008 gives Aetna the highest standard deviation in this group. However, we gain additional clarity when we consider the 10.41% median return instead. Of the 8 times it has gained ground, five were double digit returns, with a sixth falling just shy at 9.85%. Interestingly, Aetna boasts the highest correlation in the group to the S&P 500 ETF (SPY), at 0.87, suggesting shareholders should keep a close eye on the index.
Bard (NYSE:BCR) has gained 2.69% on average through November, with a more stable history of returns. Unlike Aetna, Bard posts the lowest standard deviation of returns at 8%. In keeping with its lower risk profile, it also has the lowest median return at 2.02%.
Davita (NYSE:DVA) moved sharply higher last week on positive analyst reports related to its acquisition of HealthcarePartners, a large medical practice group. The move broadens Davita's patient care services beyond its traditional dialysis centers. Davita's 11.05% median return is the second highest among the six and its 8.24% average return is third highest. The 0.58 correlation to the SPY is second lowest.
Glaxosmithkline (NYSE:GSK) has fallen from its early August peak. However, the company has gained 1.35% on average through November. Its median return is 3.05% and like Aetna, it has a fairly strong positive correlation to the SPY, suggesting shareholders should keep a close eye on the market. Regardless, the company's yield provides shareholders with a nice cushion.
The least correlated to the S&P 500 during the period is Perrigo (NYSE:PRGO), at 0.16. Perrigo also posts the highest average return at 11.73% - thanks to a nearly 50% gain in 2007. Its median return is more useful and is still a respectable 5%.
Finally Varian Medical Systems (NYSE:VAR) offers the highest average return, finishing up 10.94% on average with a median return of 16.72%. It's finished higher by double digits 5 times.
All things equal, these six healthcare stocks have a particularly strong tendency to reward investors over the coming 3 months. So, if you're on the fence wondering whether now is a good time to add to or buy these names, seasonality suggests you may be rewarded.