John Lynch Chief Investment Strategist, LPL Financial
The bull market will celebrate its tenth birthday on March 9, 2019. During that period, the S&P 500 Index has increased more than fourfold in value, producing a total return of 410% (17.7% annualized) while rising 314% in price. Concerns over the global economy, along with a potential policy mistake by the Federal Reserve (Fed) and the trade dispute with China, all have many wondering just how much the longest bull market ever could have left in the tank. This week, we’ll show why this bull market is indeed alive and well and could make it to 11 next year.
THE LONGEST BULL, BUT…
On March 9, 2009, the S&P 500 closed at 676.53, marking the low point for the worst bear market in stocks since the Great Depression. Few believed it possible at the time, but that marked the beginning of the longest bull market, at 120 months, since World War II.
But while this might be the longest bull market ever, it isn’t the strongest. Stock prices in the 1990s bull market increased by 417% at the peak, more than 100 percentage points above the current bull market. This comparison is reassuring, as it shows this bull might not be as extended as many think.
Although it may feel like this bull market has done nothing but go up for 10 straight years, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, this bull market is the only one ever with two 20% or more declines based on intraday prices. In October 2011 and again in December 2018, the S&P 500 fell 20% from prior highs, only to rally by the daily close to narrowly avoid entering a bear market.
It’s worth noting that the S&P 500 hasn’t made a new high since September 20, 2018, so one could argue this bull market may have ended then. We can’t disagree, but with the S&P 500 only 5% away from making new highs, for the sake of argument, we’re going to assume this bull market is still alive and that the S&P 500 can make new highs later this year.
Near term, from a technical analysis perspective the stock market is clearly overbought, suggesting a break may be warranted and could come at any time. Additionally, we see potential warnings signs from put/ call ratios becoming too complacent (market participants are not doing a lot of hedging against potential stock market losses) and investor sentiment polls revealing too many bulls, which makes sense after the 19% rally since December 24. Here’s the catch though: These are short-term sentiment measures—in the bigger picture, we have identified three signs that we could still be a long way from the euphoria we tend to see at major market peaks.