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Markets in a Minute

Visualizing the Length and Growth of Every Modern Bull Market

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This Markets in a Minute chart is available as a poster.

Visualizing the Length and Growth of Every Modern Bull Market

This Markets in a Minute chart is available as a poster.

The Length and Growth of Every Modern Bull Market

Since 2009, U.S. stocks have sustained the longest bull market in modern history, with the S&P 500 rising by 400%.

Dubbed the “Long, Slow Recovery”, its name can be taken quite literally. At 131 months and counting, it’s the longest of its kind by a margin of 18 months. It’s also one of the slowest growing bull markets in history, compounding at a 16% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

Today’s Markets In A Minute chart comes from New York Life Investments, which illustrates the length and growth of every U.S. bull market since World War II. From this, we can begin to recognize that bull markets vary quite significantly.

Tale of the Tape

Bull markets—which occur when stocks rise 20% above their low point—have happened 12 times in the S&P 500 since World War II. Here’s how they compare to one another.

NameLength
(months)
Total S&P 500 Change (%)Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR)
World War II (1942-1946)49158%26%
Post-war Boom (1949-1956)86266%20%
Cold War Ramps Up (1957-1961)5086%16%
JFK Aims to "Get America Moving Again" (1962-1966)4480%17%
The Go-go Years (1966-1968)2648%20%
Nifty Fifty (1970-1973)3274%23%
A Modest Bull (1974-1980)74126%14%
Reaganomics (1982-1987)60229%27%
Black Monday Comeback (1987-1990)3165%21%
Roaring 90s (1990-2000)113417%19%
Housing Boom (2002-2007)60102%15%
Long, Slow Recovery* (2009-Present)131400%16%

*Figures are as of Feb. 13, 2020
Source: CNBC, Yahoo Finance

Different Recipe, Same Result

History has shown us that bull markets can arise from a variety of scenarios. Here’s how some of the most significant ones came to fruition.

World War II (1942-1946)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, America mobilized for war. As government spending climbed, several agencies were established to regulate and control the economy.

These measures led to the creation of 17 million jobs, and brought the U.S. unemployment rate to a record low of just 1.2%. While corporate profits after taxes doubled, income grew for virtually all Americans—manufacturing workers, for example, saw their real incomes rise by nearly a quarter from 1940 to 1945.

It is for these reasons, among others, that the World War II bull market boasts a 26% CAGR, one of the largest in modern history.

Reaganomics (1982-1987)

The bull market of 1982 to 1987 was ushered in by Ronald Reagan’s Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA), a historic set of policies based on “supply-side economics”, now famously known as Reaganomics.

Supply-side economics are based on the theory that reducing taxes incentivizes individuals and businesses to produce more. Thus, the ultimate goal of ERTA was to encourage American innovation and entrepreneurship. In practice, this meant reducing marginal tax rates—the top marginal tax rate fell from 70% to 50%, while the lowest rate fell from 14% to 11%.

These cuts were a powerful ingredient for the making of another bull market. The S&P 500 grew by 229% over 60 months, resulting in a record-breaking CAGR of 27%.

Roaring 90s (1990-2000)

Yet another appropriately named bull market, the Roaring 90s lasted an impressive 113 months and generated a mammoth 417% total gain in the S&P 500—the largest in history.

While overall economic growth was robust, the focal point of this bull market was the beginning of the Internet Age and emergence of dot-com companies. Despite weak fundamentals and high valuations, investors poured money into internet startups with high hopes of long-run profitability.

Looking Into The Crystal Ball

While it’s inevitable that the “Long, Slow Recovery” will one day come to an end, this record-breaking bull market has so far proven us wrong. For example, in 2016, a multivariate model designed by economists at JP Morgan predicted the chance of recession within three years to be 92%.

Perhaps this prediction was off because the market environment today is so fundamentally different. With the advent of big tech, five companies now comprise 18% of the S&P 500. Collectively, these five companies (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook) have seen their market capitalizations grow by nearly $5 trillion since 2013.

Regardless of what happens, one thing is true: markets will continue to surprise us.

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Markets in a Minute

The Psychological Pitfalls of a Market Cycle

Market cycles can often send investors on an emotional roller coaster. We illustrate the herd mentality with this chart on investor sentiment.

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This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

The Psychological Pitfalls of a Market Cycle

When making investment decisions, investors have a wide variety of tools at their disposal.

For example, fundamental analysis can be used to estimate a stock’s intrinsic value. Technical analysis, on the other hand, requires an investor to analyze price movements to identify trends.

While these tools can form the basis of a sound investment thesis, their effectiveness is limited by one’s emotions. In today’s Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we illustrate how sentiment can get in the way of rational decision making.

The Mentality of the Herd

Allowing emotions to dictate decisions is a common mistake made by many investors, yet they may not even realize it.

Herd mentality, which refers to an individual’s tendency to be influenced by his or her peers, often leads to heightened emotions and less rational decision making. In the context of investing, this tendency becomes particularly troublesome—market developments can be sensationalized in the media, by online blogs, or through word-of-mouth.

Mapping the Sentiment Cycle

Similar to how markets move in a series of patterns and cycles, the behavior of the investor herd tends to follow a continuous “sentiment cycle.”

1. Market Recovery
Today’s chart begins at the recovery stage of a market cycle, and assumes that emotional investors have recently suffered losses.

Although a support level has been clearly established, the herd is likely too afraid to act. Their fear of making another mistake causes them to miss the optimal window to re-enter the market.

2. Market Peak
Only after prices have substantially risen does the herd begin to take notice. Many of these investors will experience the fear of missing out (FOMO), and overzealously begin buying. Valuations at this point are likely no longer attractive.

3. Market Decline
What comes up must come down, and prices eventually peak as demand weakens. Investors who become too emotionally attached can find it difficult to cut their losses early.

4. Market Trough
By this point, the sentiment cycle has run a full course. Investors who followed the herd have likely sold at a loss, and will be reluctant to re-enter the market again.

Navigating Rough Waters

Investors are prone to falling into the sentiment cycle at any time, but especially when things get rough. So-called black swan events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can bring volatility to markets on short notice. In these situations, it’s common for investors to flock to safe-haven assets.

Since COVID-19 was classified as a global pandemic, money market funds have been in extremely high demand:

Money market flows

While this dramatic shift does have its merits—equity markets have seen deep selloffs—it may be a tad drastic. Governments around the world are making serious commitments to providing economic stimulus. In the U.S., the CARES Act amounts to a massive $2 trillion, and provides direct payments to families as well as support for both the private and public sector.

Keeping a Clear Mind

Now that we’ve outlined the psychological pitfalls of a market cycle, what can one do to break away from the herd?

A good start is becoming aware of the cognitive biases we commonly exhibit when investing. These biases can be linked to many of the emotions outlined in today’s chart. Finally, maintaining a growth mindset and learning from our past mistakes can also help us make better decisions in the future.

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Markets in a Minute

Black Swan Events: Short-term Crisis, Long-term Opportunity

Black swan events like COVID-19 can cause investors to panic. However, markets have historically recovered—and such drops may offer long-term opportunities.

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black swan events

This Markets in a Minute chart is available as a poster.

Black Swans: Short-term Crisis, Long-term Opportunity

Few investors could have predicted that a viral outbreak would end the longest-running bull market in U.S. history. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed stocks far into bear market territory. From its peak on February 19th, the S&P 500 has fallen almost 30%.

While this volatility can cause investors to panic, it’s helpful to keep a long-term perspective. Black swan events, which are defined as rare and unexpected events with severe consequences, have come and gone throughout history. In today’s Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we explore the sell-off size and recovery length for some of these events.

Wars, Viruses, and Excessive Valuations

With sell-offs ranging from -5% to -50%, black swan events have all impacted the S&P 500 differently. Here’s a look at select events over the last half-century:

EventStart of Sell-off/Previous PeakSize of Sell-offDuration of Sell-off (Trading Days)Duration of Recovery (Trading Days)
Israel Arab War/Oil EmbargoOctober 29, 1973-17.1%271475
Iranian Hostage CrisisOctober 5, 1979-10.2%2451
Black MondayOctober 13, 1987-28.5%5398
First Gulf WarJanuary 1, 1991-5.7%68
9/11 AttacksSeptember 10, 2001-11.6%615
SARSJanuary 14, 2003-14.1%3940
Global Financial CrisisOctober 9, 2007-56.8%3561022
Intervention in LibyaFebruary 18, 2011-6.4%1829
Brexit VoteJune 8, 2016-5.6%149
COVID-19*February 19, 2020-29.5%19N/A (ongoing)

* Figure as of market close on March 18, 2020. The sell-off measures from the market high to the market low.

While the declines can be severe, most have been short-lived. Markets typically returned to previous peak levels in no more than a couple of months. The Oil Embargo, Black Monday, and the Global Financial Crisis are notable outliers, with the recovery spanning a year or more.

After Black Monday, the Federal Reserve reaffirmed its readiness to provide liquidity, and the market recovered in about 400 trading days. Both the 1973 Oil Embargo and 2007 Global Financial Crisis led to U.S. recessions, lengthening the recovery over multiple years.

COVID-19: How Long Will it Last?

It’s difficult to predict how long COVID-19 will impact markets, as its societal and financial disruption is unprecedented. In fact, the S&P 500 reached a bear market in just 16 days, the fastest time period on record.

black swan events

Some Wall Street strategists believe that the market will only begin to recover when COVID-19’s daily infection rate peaks. In the meantime, governments have begun announcing rate cuts and fiscal stimulus in order to help stabilize the economy.

Considering the high levels of uncertainty, what should investors do?

Buy on Fear, Sell on Greed?

Legendary investor Warren Buffet is a big proponent of this strategy. When others are greedy—typically when prices are boiling over—assets may be overpriced. On the flipside, there may be good buying opportunities when others are fearful.

Most importantly, investors need to remain disciplined with their investment process throughout the volatility. History has shown that markets will eventually recover, and may reward patient investors.

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