A Historical View of Bear Markets

Steven Goldberg, columnist for Kiplinger’s, offers some historical perspective on bear markets and suggests, “I think we’re due for a garden-variety bear market – if indeed we fall into a bear market.” Defining a bear market as a fall of at least 20% in the S&P on a total return basis (without an intervening rally of at least 30%), he notes that there have been seven since World War II, with the 2007-09 triggering the worst since the Great Depression.  The recent market slump (down 12.4% on August 25 from a May 21 high), qualifies as a mild correction. There have been 20 corrections since World War II, Goldberg notes. “Corrections can often be a pause that refreshes,” he writes, by making price-to-earnings ratios and other measures more reasonable. When they occur, bear markets last an average of 11 months and, for an investor entering at market top, would require about 42 months to break even.  Nearly all bear markets produce losses of more than 50% of gains in the preceding bull market.  Goldberg remains relatively optimistic, however, noting “valuations are only a bit above average today, and there’s no sign of a recession on the horizon.”