Bull and Bear Markets – A History

Following the “Great Recession” of 2008 not a day goes by without a prediction of another Bear Market. It’s often useful to remind ourselves of market history. While we need to remember that past performance is no guarantee of future results, we received the this fascinating chart which shows the historical performance of the S&P 500 stock market index since 1926. It’s quite dramatic.

Bull and Bear Markets

Bull and Bear markets follow each other.

What’s a Bear Market? It’s often defined as a drop of at least 20% from the previous high.

A Bull Market is measured from the point where the market stops dropping until it reaches a new peak.

What’s obvious from the chart is that historically, Bear Markets are relatively short and Bull Markets last a much longer time. A large part of this is driven by investor psychology. When markets begin to decline, the typical investor becomes concerned. As the value of their portfolio continues to go down they reach a point where fear of further losses forces them to sell. This selling contributes to a further decline. However, at some point all the fearful investors are out of the market. The decline stops, setting the stage for the next Bull Market.

  • The average Bull Market period lasted 8.8 years with an average cumulative total return of 461%.
  • The average Bear Market period lasted 1.3 years with an average cumulative loss of -41%.

Of course retirees on a fixed income have to be cautious because a major loss of retirement assets, even if a Bear Market is relatively short, can have a major impact on their lifestyle. For this reason it’s important to create portfolios that are going to participate in Bull Markets but are also robust enough to survive Bear Markets.

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