“The 2% Rule says: US bear markets, top to bottom, decline irregularly but at an average rate of about 2% per month. If a decline exceeds that, you can soon count on a pullback and a better chance to get out.”
–Ken Fisher, Forbes, “Stay Cool,” 21/09/1998
The ability to understand bear markets—defined as fundamentally driven market drops of approximately 20% or more over an extended period of time—is an important factor to consider when investing in the stock market. But many investors may not fully understand what bear markets are or how to recognise them, which can lead to emotionally driven trading decisions that can jeopardise investors meeting their long-term financial goals. Fisher Investments believes close monitoring of fundamental market factors is essential to identifying an approaching bear market. These factors include political, economic and sentiment market drivers. In Fisher Investments’ view, technical indicators alone are not sufficient to identify an impending bear market. However, Fisher Investments’ research shows bear markets rarely begin with a “bang”—they typically begin with a “whimper”: A rolling top over a longer period that lulls investors into a false sense of security.
Four rules can help identify this characteristic rolling top:
Exhibits 1 and 2 show the characteristic rolling top of the S&P 500’s decline during the 1973-1974 bear market.
Source: FactSet, as of 24/07/2018. S&P 500 Price Index Level, indexed to 100 at 31/12/1972, from 31/12/1972 – 31/12/1974.Presented in US dollars. Currency fluctuations between the US dollar and pound may result in higher or lower investment returns. For S&P 500 Price Index performance over the previous 5 years, please reference Exhibit 5.
Exhibit 3 source: FactSet, as of 24/07/2018. S&P 500 Price Index Level, indexed to 100 at 31/12/1972, from 31/12/1972 –31/12/1974.
Exhibit 4 source: FactSet, Global Financial Data, as of 19/03/2015. S&P 500 Price Index Level from 29/05/1946-09/03/2009. Returns are presented exclusive of dividends. For “Duration,” a month equals 30.5 days. Presented in US dollars. Currency fluctuations between the US dollar and pound may result in higher or lower investment returns. For S&P 500 Price Index performance over the previous 5 years, please reference Exhibit 5.
It’s also critical not to call a bear market falsely. If the market is just going through a correction (a short, sentiment-driven downturn of -10% to -20%), Fisher Investments believes you’re better off riding through it and maintaining your portfolio. It is impossible to accurately and consistently time market corrections because of the way they behave. A correction can start for any reason or no reason. Corrections lack the causes and features of the Wall and the Wallop. The Wall refers to the idea that as bull markets mature, various investor fears become accepted and dispelled. The Wallop refers to an unexpected, immovable object that is large enough to knock off several percentage points off global gross domestic product. Here are some potential signs you’re just witnessing a correction:
Choosing to undertake a bear market investment strategy and go defensive should be rare and shouldn’t be done by gut feel or by your neighbour’s opinion. Exiting the market is among the biggest investment risks you can take—if you’re wrong and you have a need for portfolio growth, missing bull market returns can be extremely costly. Importantly, there are no hard and fast market rules for an investor to blindly follow. Rather, staying informed about current market drivers and understanding the causes and indicators of bear markets are important parts of maintaining a disciplined portfolio management process aimed at achieving your longer-term investment goals.
Source: FactSet, as of 24/07/2018. S&P 500 Price Index Level, from 03/01/2011–02/01/2018. Presented in US dollars. Currency fluctuations between the US dollar and pound may result in higher or lower investment returns.