Get ready for a long bear market

Markets tend to move in long-term cycles. The overall economy oscillates through periods of greater and weaker growth. These are driven by big macro factors that last not for quarters or even years, but decades. These changes lead to significant economic changes and are often the impetus of major expansions. Then, after a decade or two, they fade and are replaced by periods of softer growth, or worse.

Over the past century, numerous “secular” long-term trends have played out. The results have been surprisingly predictable. After the 1929 crash and Great Depression, markets floundered. It took until 1954 — 25 years! — to return to the nominal market highs…

The rally that began in March 2009 looks to be running out of steam. Indeed, those gains have been among the best post-crash rallies of the past century. Only the 1932-33 and 1935-37 runs saw stronger rallies over a two-year period. The first saw the Dow Industrials double in two months. It gave back nearly all those gains by March 1933. From that low, the Dow once again doubled by July, only to give back about 26 percent by October 1933. And the next bear market rally — a two-year screamer from March 1935 to March 1937 — saw an astounding 135 percent in gains. That ended in yet another collapse, this time of 56 percent.

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