Saturday, January 25, 2014

Stocks Swayed by the Super Bowl?

Will your portfolio soar with the Seahawks, or get kicked by the Broncos? 

That’s what adherents of the so-called Super Bowl Theory—which maintains that when a team from the old National Football League wins the Super Bowl, the S&P 500 will rise, whereas should a team from the old American Football League prevail, stock prices would be expected to fall—would likely predict.

Sure enough, last year’s victory by the Baltimore Ravens (who, it might be recalled, are really a legacy NFL team via their Cleveland Brown roots) coincided with a 29.6 percent gain for the S&P 500.  Moreover, the indicator has been correct 37 of the last 47 years, or nearly 79 percent of the time.
Not only has the Super Bowl Indicator consistently predicted the direction of the market, but returns when the old NFL wins and when the AFL wins are dramatically different, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, which notes that the Dow has averaged a healthy 11.6 percent return in years in which the old NFL wins the Super Bowl and has declined by an average of 0.74 percent in years in which the old AFL prevailed.

Fare Way?
That the markets fared well in 2013 was hardly a true test of the Super Bowl Theory since, as it turned out, both teams in Super Bowl XLVII—the Baltimore Ravens (by way of NFL legacy Cleveland Browns) and the San Francisco 49ers—were NFL legacy, and thus an NFL legacy team would win regardless of the end result.

Of course, looking back over the years, the record is a bit, shall we say, “inconsistent.”  Consider that in 2012 a team from the old NFL (the NY Giants) took on—and took down—one from the old AFL (the New England Patriots, who once were the AFL’s Boston Patriots).  And, in fact, 2012 was a pretty good year for stocks. 
The year before that, the Pittsburgh Steelers (representing the American Football Conference) took on the National Football Conference’s Green Bay Packers—two teams that had some of the oldest, deepest and, yes, most “storied” NFL roots, with the Steelers formed in 1933 (as the Pittsburgh Pirates) and the Packers, founded in 1919. So, according to the Super Bowl Theory, 2011 should have been a good year for stocks (because, regardless of who won, an NFL team would prevail). But as you may recall, while the Dow gained ground for the year, the S&P 500 was, well, flat.

On the other hand, 2010 turned out pretty well for the markets—a year when the New Orleans Saints bested the Indianapolis Colts, though it was, after all, another Super Bowl featuring two teams with NFL roots (the Colts by way of the storied Baltimore Colts franchise).  That was also the case in 2009 when both the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers shared NFL roots (the Arizona Cardinals by way of once upon a time being the St. Louis Cardinals), AND in 2007, when the S&P 500 rose 3.53 percent as the Indianapolis Colts beat the NFL legacy Chicago Bears 29-17, as well as in 2006 when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated these same Seattle Seahawks; that turned out to be a good year for equities, with the S&P 500 closing up more than 13 percent.
Patriot Gains

Times were better for Patriots fans in 2005 when they bested the NFC’s Philadelphia Eagles 24-21. According to the Super Bowl Theory, the markets should have been down for the year. However, in 2005 the S&P 500 climbed 2.55 percent.   
Of course, the 2002 win by those same New England Patriots accurately foretold the continuation of the bear market into a third year (at the time, the first accurate result in five years). But the Patriots’ 2004 Super Bowl win against the Carolina Panthers failed to anticipate a fall rally that helped push the S&P 500 to a near 9 percent gain that year, sacking the indicator for another loss.

Consider also that, despite victories by these same (AFL legacy) Denver Broncos in 1998 and 1999, the S&P 500 continued its winning ways, while victories by the NFL legacy St. Louis (by way of Los Angeles) Rams and the Baltimore Ravens, did nothing to dispel the bear markets of 2000 and 2001, respectively.
In fact, the Super Bowl Theory “worked” 28 times between 1967 and 1997, then went 0-4 between 1998 and 2001, only to get back on track from 2002 on (purists still dispute how to interpret Tampa Bay’s victory in 2003, since the Buccaneers spent their first NFL season in the AFC before moving to the NFC).

Indeed, the Buccaneers’ move to the NFC was part of a swap with the Seattle Seahawks, who did, in fact, enter the NFL as an NFC team in 1976 but shuttled quickly over to the AFC (where they remained through 2001) before returning to the NFC(1). 
And, not having entered the league until 1976, wherever they began, can the Seahawks truly be considered a “legacy” NFL squad?

Investor adherents to this market theory are presumed to be pulling for the NFC’s Seahawks over the old AFL (and new AFC Champion) Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.  On the other hand, when Denver won its back-to-back Super Bowls in 1998 and 1999 (2), the Dow and S&P did pretty well; and in 2006—when the Seahawks made their only other Super Bowl appearance and lost—the S&P 500 gained nearly 16 percent. 
Regardless, it looks like it could be a good game—and whether you are a proponent of the Super Bowl Theory or not, would be one in which whoever wins, we all will!

-          Nevin E. Adams, JD

(1) In fact, Seattle is the only team to have played in both the AFC and NFC Championship Games, having relocated from the AFC to the NFC during league realignment prior to the 2002 season. The Seahawks are the only NFL team to switch conferences twice in the post-merger era. The franchise began play in 1976 in the NFC West division but switched conferences with the Buccaneers after one season and joined the AFC West.
(2) Ignoring, of course, the Super Bowls Denver lost (and the markets “won”) in 1978, 1987, and 1988 and 1989 – the latter still the widest margin of loss (55-10) in Super Bowl history)

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