You’ve likely heard the terms “bull” and “bear” in regards to the market, but what do they mean exactly, and how does a bear market relate to a recession? We’ll discuss this below.
What Is a Bear Market?
A bear market refers to a period of time in which stock prices decline and the overall market outlook is pessimistic. Beyond the daily fluctuations of the market, a bear market is typically marked by a 20 percent or more fall in the market index over at least a two-month period.1
Bear markets throughout history have varied greatly in severity and length of time. For example, two of the longest bear markets experienced in America include the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which lasted 34 months, and the more recent 2007 financial crisis, in which the bear market lasted over 27 months.2
In 2020 the market tumbled into bear territory in over just 20 trading days, far quicker than other declines of such caliber. In March 2020, the U.S. stock market dropped 27% in a little over three weeks, wiping out tens of trillions of dollars, and making it the fastest bear market in history.
Where Does the Name “Bear” Come From?
Bears and bulls may seem like two unrelated animals to associate with investments. However, the correlation between these two can actually be traced back to the late 1500s. During this time, people enjoyed gambling on bull- and bear-baiting - an activity in which the animal would be chained to a post and spectators would bet on which dog could kill it.
In the 1600s, it was common for hunters across America to actually sell bearskins before they caught a bear (similar to short sellers in the market) - further associating these animals with investments. In the 1700s, the phrases bull and bear market were published in “Every Man His Own Broker,” by Thomas Mortimer, and in 1873 a painting of the stock market crash by William Holbrook Beard depicted the two animals prominently.3
What Causes a Bear Market?
In simple terms, a bear market is caused when all parties lose confidence. Consumers stop buying, businesses stop selling and investors begin pulling out of the market. As confidence in the market lessens, expansion in the business cycle grinds to a halt. In the 2020 move to a bear market, this loss of confidence was triggered by the stock market plummet due to the spread of COVID-19.
What Is a Business Cycle?
The business cycle includes four stages: expansion, peak, recession, and trough.4 If you picture these as a mountain, expansion is the phase in which businesses are profiting (climbing upwards), the market is going strong and confidence is high. During this time, we experience a bull market.
On the other hand, a recession is the contraction phase of the business cycle (moving down the mountain). Confidence diminishes, economic growth begins to weaken, unemployment rates rise and a generally cynical view develops toward the market. This is when we experience a bear market.
In between these two phases lie the transitioning times, the peak and trough. Just as it sounds, the peak indicates the “top of the mountain,” serving as the transition between expansion and market contraction. A trough lies at the bottom of the recession phase and serves as the transition between recession and expansion.
Is a Recession Imminent?
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a recession is “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.”5
Indicators of a recession may include:
- Recent graduates unable to secure jobs
- An increase in businesses going bankrupt
- Unemployment rates rising
- Housing market collapsing
- Consumers buying less
While the stock market entering a bear market is common amidst a recession, the stock market is not necessarily an indicator that a recession is about to happen. Instead, there are certain indicators and warning signs such as a slow down in production in the manufacturing sector, retail sales, and the real gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate declining.
While the impact of a recession can be long-lasting, the recession itself typically only lasts between nine and 18 months, according to the NBER.6 It is important to understand these concepts because it can help the investor better understand what is happening at the moment and give perspective on how the economy and markets may react in the future. It helps to bring some calm to the emotions that are experienced when investing, as emotions can negatively impact investing activities because they are primarily reactive decisions rather than proactive (read more on this here: Four Emotions To Be Aware of During Times of Market Volatility). If you are someone who struggles in dealing with this it might be the right time to think about finding a Registered Investment Advisor to help you with your investing (here are Four Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering if it is Time to Hire an Investment Advisor).
Remember that each country has its own economy, and even though it is connected to the global economy, it does not mean that other countries are experiencing the same effects because they have different business cycles. When there is a Bull market people often think less about losses. However, building a wealth-worthy portfolio is something that can help an investor grow and preserve their wealth throughout business cycles. Anytime there’s uncertainty surrounding your money, it can be scary. It’s important to focus on your personal economy and work alongside your financial advisor to make informed and educated decisions during times of market volatility.
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