You’ve probably heard it before. Bear markets are par for the course in investing. Let’s go through some history to help calibrate your mind and emotions. In this review, my focus is on the four key metrics for bear markets; frequency, depth, length and recovery.
There have been nine bear markets in the past six decades. A bear market is technically defined as a decline of greater than 20%. To come up with my tally, I’m ignoring the truly weird Covid-shutdown collapse and recovery.
In terms of frequency, there was one bear market in the late-‘50s and then two more in the ‘60s, two in the ‘70s, and two in the ‘80s. The ‘90s were spared. And, as we all know, there were two big and memorable bear markets in the ‘00s, one at the start and one at the end. All told, on average bear markets show up every 5 to 7 years.
In terms of pain, the declines during each of these nine bear markets have been -21%, -28%, -22%, -36%, -48%, -27%, -33%, -49% and -55%. The average decline was about 35%. Excluding the three deep bear markets in that list, the average decline was about 27%. That should help frame the possible outcomes.
In terms of length, the bear markets reached their bottom in 2, 6, 8, 19, 21, 21, 2, 33 and 18 months, respectively. The average time it took before the eventual rebound was about 13 months. Ignoring the three deep bear markets, the average time to hit bottom was about 9 months.
In terms of time to recover, here’s how long each of them took to claw back the losses: 11, 14, 10, 21, 70, 3, 20, 56 and 49 months. The average time to rebound was about two years. Once again, excluding the big three, the average recovery was closer to one year. Naturally, the deepest bear markets took a lot longer to recover.
Based on this history, once or twice a decade investors can expect to experience a decline of 30% to 35% that dishes out its pain over about a year’s time. And, when it’s finally over, the typical bear market loss is fully recovered over about 12 to 24 months.
Over the past five months, the broader stock market is now flirting with a 20% decline. If this one becomes a bear market of the typical sort, we’re probably more than halfway to the end of the pain. A more-severe kind of a bear market is wholly dependent on the Fed, of course. In turn, the Fed’s future actions are wholly dependent on the path of inflation expectations.
I’m currently leaning toward the typical kind of bear market. Regardless, this is the moment for long-term investors to steel their mind on a well-reasoned game plan based on sound discipline. That is, in the end, the only true way to navigate the ugly anatomy of a bear market.
Jason P. Tank, CFA, CFP® is the owner of Front Street Wealth Management, a purely fee-only advisory firm. Contact him at (231) 947-3775, by email at [email protected] and at www.FrontStreet.com