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In the stock market, the “sell in May” strategy posits that investors can make more money by sitting out the summer and early fall, when prices tend to languish.

The math is compelling. From 1926 through last year, the S&P 500 rose an average 4.3 percent in the six months of May through October, versus 7.1 percent in November through April.

The problem, critics point out, is that stocks move widely above and below their averages from year to year.

One researcher, Larry Swedroe of Buckingham Asset Management, found that “sell in May” beat an ordinary strategy of buying and holding stocks if you started investing in 1960, 1970 and 2000, but not if you started in 1950, 1980 or 1990.

But this time, at least, it would have worked. Investors who bought stocks exactly according to the Dow last Nov. 1 and sold them on April 30 would have gained 13 percent. Investors who held on through May would have seen those gains cut in half.

For the calendar year, the limp May left the Dow up 1.4 percent, the S&P up 4.2 percent and the Nasdaq up 8.5 percent. Two months ago, all three indexes were up more than twice as much.

The month’s most spectacular market blunder was Facebook, which debuted on the Nasdaq exchange May 18 at $38 a share. By Thursday’s close it had fallen more than $8 from there.

The stock’s first day was complicated by technical problems at the Nasdaq, and questions later emerged about whether Morgan Stanley, which helped take the company public, had offered some clients better information about the stock.

JPMorgan Chase stock lost 23 percent of its value during the month after the bank disclosed a surprise trading loss of $2 billion or more — a black eye for CEO Jamie Dimon, who has built a reputation as a master of risk management.

Then there was Europe. Troubles in Greece dominated headlines for much of the month, but Spain has been the market’s albatross this week. It will have to spend almost $24 billion to bail out one of its biggest banks.

There is still no agreement over how to solve the crisis: Stronger countries like Germany want governments to cut spending, but voters in weaker countries like Greece have shown they are in no mood for more fiscal pain.

On Thursday, the European Union demanded that Spain provide more details about how it plans to finance the overhaul of its banking sector.

Spain’s key stock market index was flat, while Greece rose nearly 3 percent. Borrowing rates for Spain fell somewhat, suggesting investors were feeling a little better about that country’s finances.

“Greece is a failed chemistry experiment,” said Michael Strauss, chief investment strategist at the Commonfund investment firm in Connecticut. “But we are more worried about Spain because of its size and the scope.”

Strauss said he advised clients to take money out of stocks in early spring, when the S&P was above 1,400, or about 90 points higher than where it closed Thursday.

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