February stock market trends

  • Market coming off stronger-than-average January
  • February up more than down in recent decades
  • Several sizable February pullbacks since 1990

Back in the misty days of market pre-history—oh, say, before 1990 or so—February had a minor reputation as a “pullback month.” From 1960-1989, for example, the S&P 500 (SPX) gained ground in January 60% of the time, but only 50% of the time in February, and the median February return was just 0.02%.1

Since then, though, the second month of the year has been a little more bullish, although that headline comes with some important fine print. The SPX has posted a net gain in 20 of the past 33 Februaries (61% of the time) and has a median return of 0.85%—much larger than the figure for the previous 30 years, but still the fourth-weakest of all months of the year.

Also, February’s average return since 1990 is only 0.04%, thanks to several big losses—eight larger than -3%, three of which exceeded -8%. The median positive February return was +2.7%, while the median negative February return was -3.1%:

Chart 1: S&P 500 (SPX) February returns, 1990–2022. Up more than down, but a few large declines.

Source (data): Power E*TRADE. (For illustrative purposes. Not a recommendation.)

Drilling down a little more, since 1990, negative Februaries have been more likely to follow negative Januaries. Of the 15 down Januaries since 1990, eight have been followed by down Februaries and seven by up Februaries. But negative Februaries also followed five of the SPX’s nine previous down years since 1990.

Market Mover Update: With earnings due out today, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) bucked yesterday’s weakness, climbing more than 2% intraday (see “Traders ride the rails”).

Today’s numbers include (all times ET): Employment Cost Index (8:30 a.m.), Case-Shiller Home Price Index (9 a.m.), FHFA House Price Index (9 a.m.), Chicago PMI (9:45 a.m.), Consumer Confidence (10 a.m.).

Today’s earnings include: Caterpillar (CAT), Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), Dover (DOV), General Motors (GM), McDonald’s (MCD), Pfizer (PFE), Pulte Group (PHM), Phillips 66 (PSX), Spotify (SPOT), United Parcel Service (UPS), Exxon Mobil (XOM), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Amgen (AMGN), Electronic Arts (EA), Edwards Lifesciences (EW), Juniper Networks (JNPR), Match Group (MTCH), Snap (SNAP).


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1 All figures reflect S&P 500 (SPX) monthly closing prices, 1960–2022. Supporting document available upon request.

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