‘Sell in May’ Wall Street Adage Doesn’t Apply to Bitcoin, Data Suggests

Investors who sold bitcoin in May missed out on positive returns during 8 of the past 10 years, according to market data.

AccessTimeIconJun 1, 2020 at 10:50 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:47 a.m. UTC
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The old Wall Street maxim “Sell in May and go away” is detrimental to bitcoin investors, market data from Messari suggests.

The largest cryptocurrency generated positive returns during eight of the past 10 Mays, outperforming its monthly average for that year during six of them. 

“Sell in May” refers to an old investment strategy that advises against holding investments during summer months, starting in May. While there may be truth to the adage for traditional markets, some bitcoin investors don’t give the idea much credence. 

“It’s just a meme to me,” said Qiao Wang, a cryptocurrency startup investor and former quantitative trader at Tower Research. 

In May of last year, for example, bitcoin’s price gained more than 54% while the 2019 monthly average return was less than 8%. Bitcoin climbed almost 9% last month, just above the year-to-date monthly average of roughly 8.5%.

Historical monthly bitcoin returns
Historical monthly bitcoin returns

“It seems clear to me that you want to buy in May and go away,” Wang said of bitcoin. 

During bearish cycles in 2015 and 2018, bitcoin performed worse in May than the year’s monthly average. But in 2011, during the cryptocurrency’s first bearish cycle, May returns outshined the year’s monthly average by 120 percentage points. 

Nonetheless, market sayings like “Sell in May,” while lacking supporting fundamentals, often become self-fulfilling or are just simply the results of a statistical anomaly, said Sam Trabucco, a quantitative cryptocurrency trader at Alameda Research. 

Speaking to bitcoin’s historical outperformance in May, Trabucco said, “I don’t see a reason to believe this particular pattern is anything but variance.”


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