Once stocks have wound up in the jaws of a bear market, the most pressing question is when/where will it end?
Which is tough to predict because we have a relatively small data set to project from–we’ve only had 12 bear markets (using the 20% drop from a high as our definition of a bear market) since 1950. If you look at just those bear markets with a swift onset–arguably the description of the current bear–you have an even smaller sample. (I’m grateful for the work on bear markets done by DQYDJ.com recently. The site–whose name is short for Don’t Quite Your Day Job–does really solid and very interesting number crunching and their recent post on bear markets is no exception.) The current bear market most closely resembles the bear markets of October 1990, May 1962, October 1987 and, possibly, September 1998, according to DQYDJ.com (Losses in those bears ranged from 20.36% to 35.94.) The length of the bear markets in those samples varies from 126 days to 700 days until the next nominal high in the S&P 500.
Gee, that narrows it down a lot. Somewhere from 126 days to 700 days high to high.
But, I’d argue, the current bear may be even tougher to project. First, unlike those bears that start after a recession, this one began before a possible recession. The arrival or not of an actual recession makes a huge difference to the duration of this bear.
And it also makes it tough to say whether this bear will see stock prices fall back to their long term trend line or whether they might break through that trend because a global economic slowdown has shifted the trend.
Stocks charts right now make the “projection problem” extremely clear. Because this bull market ran so long and contained so few corrections during its later stages, there aren’t a whole lot of support levels built into most stock charts.
For example, if you look at a chart for Intuitive Surgical (ISRG), a robotic surgery stock that I recommended as one of my next Big Things in my Special Report of that name, you’ll see that the shares peaked at $574 on September 24, 2018 and now trade, as of December 28, at $471. You’ll look in vain for anything like a sideways move that consolidated the stock’s advance and would provide support for the stock’s price until the $440-$395 a share range in January to March 2018. If that relatively weak support fails, the next major support I see doesn’t show up until $213 or so from October to December 2016.
An unwind of two years of gains would be extraordinarily painful and it would probably require an actual recession for the stock to reach that level, but it’s not out of the question.
The bigger picture chart of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index shows the same problems for projecting a bottom. The index closed at 2485 today. The first real support that I can find comes around 2085-2090 in the fall of 2016. That would be a rewind of the total post-election Trump rally. Support at that level is very strong–it stretches back to late 2014 (the S&P 500 was at 2088 on December 22, 2014.)
I’d be very surprised if this level didn’t hold in the current bear–roughly 400 points below today’s close. The S&P 500 closed at a high of 2929.69 on September 17, 2018 so the total drop to 2085 would be 844 points or 28.8%.
But if we do indeed get a U.S. or global recession–and remember the market is currently worried about a slowdown in economic growth that still leaves growth in positive territory and thus not in a recession–all projections are off. The beginning of the bull market trend line is at 1173 back at the end of 2011.