Despite the recent correction, and regardless which popular metric you use; PE, Shiller’s CAPE Ratio, or Buffett’s Market to GDP comparison; this is one of the most expensive markets since 1923. The other two were the 1929 and 2000 markets and we know how those turned out. Incidentally, 1923 was the year the “Composite Index” was introduced, the S&P 500’s precursor pay per install programs.
The record shows that, while stock prices can continue at elevated levels for a long time, they eventually reverse to the mean. That can happen in one of two ways. Either the market goes sideways for a long time until earnings catch up, or there is a sharp drop to bring prices in line with historical PE ratios – a reversal to the mean. History has shown that investors are not a patient bunch. They will put up with a sideways market for a while, but eventually they will tire of meager returns and put their money to work where they believe will yield greater gain potential. Once that ball gets rolling, the market exits en masse and a severe bear market takes hold. The upshot: there is a big market drop in store.
The question is when and was this past correction a hic-up or a prelude to the big plunge. A study of major bear markets indicates the latter is more likely. Indeed, a review of 28-plus -percent market drops since 1923 reveals there is always a preamble to every major bear market. Some folks are under the mistaken impression that stock market crashes occur at market tops. That is far from the truth.
The stock market may well be fickle, but providence is kind. It always gives us advance notice of a coming crash, grabbing our attention amidst our complacency with a surprise drop and providing an opportunity to get out before it crashes in earnest. This is shown in the analysis below for each of the following major bear markets (28% decline or more): 2007, 2000, 1987, 1973, 1968, 1962, 1946, 1937, and 1929. Intraday prices and daily closes are only available for the S&P 500 from 1950 on. Therefore, Dow Jones Industrial Average closes were used for the markets before that.
The initial top for the 2007 market came July 17 when the S&P 500 had an intraday high of 1555.90. The index would drop the next week and eventually settle to an intraday low of 1370.60 a month later on August 16 – a drop of 11.9%. Henceforth, all highs and lows are intraday unless otherwise stated. The market would climb for seven weeks to reach a market top for the index of 1576,09 October 11, 2007 – 1.3% higher than its previous high. An initial 5.5% dip was followed by a quick recovery to 1552.76 October 31, before succumbing and dropping 10.8% to a low of 1406.10 November 26, 2007. The index would recover to a high of 1523.57 and continue on a series of lower lows and highs until its nadir of 666.79 March 9, 2009 for a 57.7% decline.
The 2000 market gave plenty of warning before the Dot.com plunge. The market faltered right after opening the New Year January 3rd. After reaching a high of 1478, the S&P 500 dropped to 1455.22 at the close. It dropped below 1400 the next three days and recovered to 1465.71 – the high January 20, 2000. From there it did a roller coaster ride down to the 1329.15 low of February 25 – a 10.1% drop from its high thus far. The market finally climaxed at 1552.87 March 24, 2000. It would drop precipitously April 14 to a low of 1339.40 – a 13.7% drop – but then slowly recovered to 1530.09 by September 1, 2000, only 1.5% below its all-time high. Thereafter it steadily went down with some sharp drops followed by rallies but only to the downtrend line. The market bottomed at 775.80 October 9, 2002 for a 50.1% decline.
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