The January Effect: What it is & why investors should care

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The January Effect is a term that some financial market analysts use to classify the first month as one of the best-performing months, stock-wise, during the year. Analysts and investors who believe in this phenomenon claim that stocks have large price increases in the first month of the year, primarily due to a decline in share prices in December. Theoretically, following the dip in December, investors pour into stocks and boost prices in January.

 

However, many analysts claim that the January Effect and other seasonal anomalies are nothing more than market myths, with little evidence to prove the phenomenon definitively. Nonetheless, it may be helpful for investors to understand the history and possible causes behind the January Effect.

What Is the January Effect?

As noted above, the January Effect is a phenomenon in which stocks supposedly perform well during the first month of the year. The theory is that many investors sell holdings and take gains from the previous year in December, which can push prices down. This dip supposedly creates buying opportunities in the first month of the new year as investors return from the holidays. This buying can drive prices up, creating a “January Effect.”

 

Believers of the January Effect say it typically occurs in the first week of trading after the New Year and can last for a few weeks. Additionally, the January Effect primarily affects small-cap stocks more than larger stocks because they are less liquid.

 

To take advantage of the January Effect, investors can either buy stocks in December that are expected to benefit from the January Effect or buy stocks in January when prices are expected to be higher due to the effect. Investors can also look for stocks with low prices in December, but have historically experienced a surge in January, and buy those stocks before the increase.

 

Recommended: How To Know When to Buy, Sell, Or Hold a Stock

What Causes the January Effect?

Here are a few reasons why stocks may rise in the first month of the year.

Tax-Loss Harvesting

Stock prices supposedly decline in December, when many investors sell certain holdings to lock in gains or losses to take advantage of year-end tax strategies, like tax-loss harvesting.

 

With tax-loss harvesting, investors can lower their taxable income by writing off their annual losses, with the tax timetable ending on December 31. According to U.S. tax law, an investor only needs to pay capital gains taxes on their investments’ total realized gains (or losses).

 

For example, suppose an investor owned shares in three companies for the year and sold the stocks in December. The total value of the profit and loss winds up being taxed.

 

Company A: $20,000 profit
Company B: $10,000 profit
Company C: $15,000 loss

 

For tax purposes, the investor can tally up the total investment value of all three stocks in a portfolio — in this case, that figure is $15,000 ($20,000 + $10,000 – $15,000). Consequently, the investor would only have to pay capital gains taxes on $15,000 for the year rather than the $30,000 in profits.

 

If the investor still believes in Company C and only sold the stock to benefit from tax-loss harvesting, they can repurchase the stock 30 days after the sale to avoid the wash-sale rule. The wash-sale rule prevents investors from benefiting from selling a security at a loss and then buying a substantially identical security within the next 30 days.

 

Recommended: Tax Loss Carryforward

A Clean Slate for Consumers

U.S. consumers, who have a robust say in how the American economy will perform, traditionally view January as a fresh start. Adding stocks to their portfolios or existing equity positions is a way consumers hit the New Year’s Day “reset” button. If retail investors buy stocks in the new year, it can result in a rally for stocks to start the year.

 

Moreover, many workers may receive bonus pay in December or January may use this windfall to buy stocks in the first month of the year, adding to the January Effect.

Portfolio Managers May Buy In January

Like consumers, January may give mutual fund portfolio managers a chance to start the year fresh and buy new stocks, bonds, and commodities. That puts managers in a position to get a head start on building a portfolio with a good yearly-performance figure, thus adding more investors to their funds.

 

Additionally, portfolio managers may have sold losing stocks in December as a way to clean up their end-of-year reports, a practice known as “window dressing.” With portfolio managers selling in December and buying in January, it could boost stock prices at the beginning of the year.

Is the January Effect Real?

The January Effect has been studied extensively, and there is evidence to suggest that it is somewhat real. Studies have found that small- and mid-cap stocks tend to outperform the market during January because they are less liquid.

 

But some analysts note that the effect has become less pronounced in recent years due to the rise of tax-advantaged investing accounts, like 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Investors who use these accounts may not have a reason to sell in December to benefit from tax-loss harvesting. Therefore, while the January Effect may be somewhat real, its impact may be more muted than in the past.

January Effect and Efficient Markets

However, many investors claim that the January Effect is not real because it is at odds with the efficient markets hypothesis. An efficient market is where the market price of securities represents an unbiased estimate of the investment’s actual value.

 

Efficient market backers say that external factors — like the January Effect or any non-disciplined investment strategy — aren’t effective in portfolio management. Since all investors have access to the same information that a calendar-based anomaly may occur, it’s impossible for investors to time the stock market to take advantage of the effect. Efficient market theorists don’t believe that calendar-based market movements affect market outcomes.

 

The best strategy, according to efficient market backers, is to buy stocks based on the stock’s underlying value — and not based upon dates in the yearly calendar.

History of the January Effect

The phrase “January Effect” is primarily credited to Sydney Wachtel, an investment banker who coined the term in 1942. Wachtel observed that many small-cap stocks had significantly higher returns in January than the rest of the year, a trend he first noticed in 1925.

 

He attributed this to the “year-end tax-loss selling” that occurred in December, which caused small-cap stocks to become undervalued. Wachtel argued that investors had an opportunity to capitalize on this by buying small-cap stocks during the month of January.

 

However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the notion of a stock rally in January earned mainstream acceptance, as analysts and academics began rolling out research papers on the topic.

 

The January Effect has been studied extensively since then, and many theories have been proposed as to why the phenomenon may occur. These include ideas discussed above, like tax-loss harvesting, investor psychology, window-dressing by portfolio managers, and liquidity effects in stocks. Despite these theories, the January Effect remains an unexplained phenomenon, and there is a debate about whether following the strategy is beneficial.

The Takeaway

Like other market anomalies and calendar effects, the January Effect is considered by some to be evidence against the efficient markets hypothesis. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the stock market does perform better in January, especially with small-cap stocks.

 

Whether one believes in the January Effect or not, it’s always a good idea for investors to use strategies that can best help them meet their long-term goals.

 

Learn More:

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

SoFi Invest
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Also, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals, and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA  SIPC  . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC registered investment advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit .sofi. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or prequalification for any loan product offered by SoFi Bank, N.A.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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Investment tax rules every investor should know

 

Investing can feel like a steep learning curve. In addition to having a clear grasp of types of investment vehicles available and understanding the role investments play in overall financial strategy, it’s a good idea to understand how taxes may affect your investments. Knowing tax implications of various investment vehicles and investment decisions can help an investor tailor their strategy and end up with fewer headaches at tax time.

 

Related: What is leverage?

 

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Tax requirements for investments can be complicated, and it can be helpful for investors to work with a professional to see how taxes might impact a return on their investment. Doing so might also help ensure that investors aren’t overlooking anything as they explore avenues for favorable tax treatments.

That said, it’s always helpful to enter into any discussion with some solid background information on when and how investments are taxed. Typically, investments are taxed at one or more of these three times:

  • When you sell an asset for a profit. This profit is called capital gains—the difference between what you bought an investment for and what you sold it for. Capital gains taxes are typically only triggered when you sell an asset; otherwise, any gain is an “unrealized gain” and is not taxed.
  • When you receive money from your investments. This may be in the form of dividends or interest.
  • When all profits from investments are considered under an umbrella. This view may trigger a tax called the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT).
  • In the following sections, we delve deeper into each of these situations that can lead to taxes on investments.

 

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Capital gains are the profits an investor makes from the purchase price to the sale price of an asset. Capital gains taxes are triggered when an asset is sold (or in the case of qualified dividends, which is explained further in the next section). Any growth or loss before a sale is called an unrealized gain or loss, and is not taxed.

 

The opposite of a capital gain is a capital loss. This occurs when an investor sells an asset at a lower price than purchased. Why would an investor trigger a capital loss? That depends on the investor. Sometimes, an investor needs to sell an asset at a suboptimal time because they need the cash.

 

At other times, an investor may sell “losing” assets at the same time they sell assets that have gained as a way to minimize their overall tax bill, by using a strategy called tax-loss harvesting. This strategy allows investors to “balance” any gains by deliberately selling profits at a loss, which, according to IRS rules, can be carried over through subsequent tax years.

 

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There are two types of capital gains, depending on how long you have held an asset:

  • Short-term capital gains. This is a tax on assets held less than a year, taxed at the investor’s ordinary income tax rate.
  • Long-term capital gains. This is a tax on assets held longer than a year, taxed at the capital-gains tax rate. This rate is lower than ordinary income tax. For 2021, as per the IRS , the long-term capital gains tax was $0 for individuals with taxable income less than $80,0000 and no more than 15% for most individuals (for those making more than $496,600, the rate jumps to 20%).

 

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Dividends are distributions that a corporation, S-corp, trust or other entity taxable as a corporation may pay to investors. Not all companies pay dividends, but those that do typically pay investors in cash, out of the corporation’s profits or earnings. In some cases, dividends are paid in stock or other assets.

Dividends that are part of tax-advantaged investment vehicles are not taxed.

 

Generally, taxpayers will receive a form 1099-DIV from a corporation that paid dividends if they receive more than $10 in dividends over a tax year. All other dividends are either ordinary or qualified:

  • Ordinary dividends are taxed at the investor’s income tax rate.
  • Qualified dividends are taxed at the lower capital-gains rate.

In order for a dividend to be considered “qualified” and be taxed at the capital gains rate, an investor must have held the stock for more than 60 days in the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the ex-dividend date. (Additionally, said dividends must be paid by a U.S. corporation or qualified foreign corporation, and must be an ordinary dividend, as opposed to capital gains distributions or dividends from tax-exempt organizations.)

 

Both ordinary dividends and interest income on investments are taxed at the investors regular income rate. Interest may come from brokerage accounts, or assets such as mutual funds and bonds. There are exceptions to interest taxes based on type of asset. For example, municipal bonds may be exempt from taxes on interest if they come from the state in which you reside.

 

Victoria Gnatiuk / istockphoto

 

Net investment income tax (NIIT) is a flat 3.8% surtax levied on investment income for taxpayers above a certain income threshold. The NIIT is also called the “Medicare tax” and, as per the IRS , applies to all investment income including, but not limited to: interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income, non-qualified annuities, and income from businesses involved in trading of financial instruments or commodities.

 

In 2021, NIIT applies to individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) over $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. For taxpayers over the threshold, NIIT is applied to the lesser of the amount the taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the threshold or their total net investment income.

 

For example, consider a couple filing jointly who makes $200,000 in wages and has a NIIT of $60,000 across all investments in a single tax year. This brings their AGI to $260,000—$10,000 over the AGI threshold. This would mean the taxpayer would owe tax on $10,000. To calculate the exact amount of tax, the couple would take 3.8% of $10,000, or $380.

 

g-stockstudio / istockphoto

 

Certain types of investments may be exempt from tax implications if the money is used for certain purposes. These investment vehicles are called “tax-sheltered” vehicles and apply to certain types of investments that are earmarked for certain uses, such as retirement or education.

There are two types of tax-sheltered accounts:

  • Tax-deferred accounts. These are accounts in which money is contributed pre-tax and grows tax-free, but taxes are taken out when money is withdrawn. For example, a 401(k) retirement account grows tax-free until you withdraw money, at which point it is taxed.
  • Tax-exempt accounts. These are accounts—such as a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA, or a 529 plan—in which money can be taken out tax-free if the funds are taken out according to qualifications. For example, money in a Roth account is not taxed upon withdrawal in retirement.

Beyond investing in tax-sheltered accounts, investors may also choose to research or speak with a professional about tax-efficient investing strategies. These are ways to calibrate a portfolio that may help minimize tax hits, grow wealth, and ensure that key portfolio goals—such as ample savings for retirement or ensuring adequate liquidity —are met.

 

DepositPhotos.com

 

Dividends, interest, and gains can add up, which is why it’s important for a taxpayer to be mindful of investment taxes not only at tax time, but throughout the year. Understanding the implications of sales and keeping capital gains taxes in mind when planning sales can help investors make tax-smart decisions.

 

Because there are so many different rules regarding taxes, some investors find it helpful to work with a tax pro to ensure they’re not overlooking anything in their portfolio. Tax law also varies by state, and a tax pro should be able to tailor strategy to a taxpayer’s home state to minimize liability.

 

Learn More:

This article
originally appeared on 
SoFi.comand was
syndicated by
MediaFeed.org.

 

SoFi Invest
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA  SIPC  . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
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Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell is a freelance writer and contributor at Experian.com.