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A Brief History of Bear Markets

A Brief History of Bear Markets
By Alex Planes | More Articles
October 5, 2011

Well, it’s finally here, and we’ve had plenty of warning. The S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) officially slipped under the limbo stick that marks an “official” bear market on October 4th, shedding 21.6% of its value since its May 2 peak. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) isn’t far behind, down 19.5% from that same day. We’ve had plenty of bear markets to compare with, so is this time really different, or are clues to our financial future hiding in the wreckage of the past?

Bear necessities

Broadly speaking, a bear market is any decline of 20% or more in a broad market index. This isn’t a hard and fast rule — there were three major drops from 1937 to 1942, yet they get bundled into one longer bear market on occasion. For investors who lived through it, it didn’t matter how many there were; none of those bears were just right.

dates /declines

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