One of the oddities of a significant bull market—and this one we’re in today qualifies, as the second-longest in modern American history—is that they tend to go on longer than you might expect from the pure market fundamentals. The last leg of a bull market tends to be driven by psychology; people have recently experienced an up market, and so they tend to expect more of the same. They buy at prices they would never consider buying at when the markets have experienced a downturn, driving prices ever higher without regard to the price. As a result, the long tail of the bull market will also see some of the greatest, fastest increases.
You probably didn’t notice, but Monday, September 11 marked a milestone: the S&P 500 index’s bull market became the second-longest and the second-best performing in the modern economic era. Stock prices are up 270% from their low point after the Great Recession in March 2009—up 340% if you include dividends. That beats the 267% gain that investors experienced from June 1949 to August 1956. (The raging bull that lasted from October 1990 to March 2000 is still the winningest ever, and may never be topped.)
One candidate for the greatest bull market run in financial history is the recent runup in price of the Bitcoin—the crypto-currency favored by international arms dealers and drug cartels, but also gaining acceptance at some retail locations. The so-called “internet of money” is not backed by any government, which its promoters say is a good thing, because the currency is not subject to QEs or over-caffeinated printing presses in Washington, Brussels or Tokyo.
The current bull market in stocks will reach its 8th anniversary tomorrow, and for about the last four years, professional investors and financial planners have been scratching their heads. The markets have gone up and up and up, and we all know that they won’t go up forever, which means there’s a correction looming somewhere on the horizon.
You know you’re deep into a longstanding bull market when you see things like average pedestrians keeping one eye on the market tickers outside of brokerage houses to see when the Dow Jones Industrial Average has finally breached the 20,000 mark. Who would have imagined record market highs at this point last year, when the indices ended the year in negative territory? Or when new year 2016 got off to such a rocky start, tumbling 10% in the first two weeks—the worst start to a year since 1930?
Anybody who was surprised that the Federal Reserve Board decided to raise its benchmark interest rate this week probably wasn’t paying attention. The U.S. economy is humming along, the stock market is booming and the unemployment rate has fallen faster than anybody expected. The incoming administration has promised lower taxes and a stimulative $550 billion infrastructure investment. The question on the minds of most observers is: what were they waiting for?
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that it would have been a bad idea to sell your stock holdings after the Brexit vote; you would have locked in a 5% to 10% loss in a market that eventually trended upward to new record highs. The same is true of the aftermath of the World Court decision that slapped China in the face by declaring that man-made islands don’t transform an ocean into territorial waters, the attempted coup in Turkey, or, really, any other alarming headline which doesn’t materially affect a company’s ability to run its operations.