This article was written by Atul Surana. He is a Certified Financial Planner.
What causes bull and bear markets? They are partly a result of the supply and demand for securities. Investor psychology, government involvement in the economy and changes in economic activity also drive the market up or down. These forces combine to make investors bid higher or lower prices for stocks.
To qualify as a bull or bear market, a market must have been moving in its current direction (by about 20% of its value) for a sustained period. Small, short-term movements lasting days do not qualify; they may only indicate corrections or short-lived movements. Bull and bear markets signify long movements of significant proportion.
There are several well-known bulls and bears in American history. The longest-lived bull market in U.S. history is the one that began about 1991 and is still climbing. Other major bulls occurred in the 1920’s, the late 1960’s and the mid-1980’s. However, they all ended in recessions or market crashes.
The best-known bear market in the U.S. was, of course, the Great Depression. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost roughly 90 percent of its value during the first three years of this period. There were also numerous others throughout the twentieth century, including those of 1973-74 and 1981-82.
PREDICTING BULL AND BEAR MARKETS
Investors turn to theories and complex calculations to try to figure out in advance when the market will scream upward or tumble downward. In reality, however, no perfect indicator has been found.
In their attempts to predict the market, economists use technical analysis. Technical analysis is the use of market data to analyze individual stocks and the market as a whole. It is based on the ideas that supply and demand determine stock prices and that prices, in turn, also reflect the moods of investors. One tool commonly used in technical analysis is the advance-decline line, which measures the difference between the number of stocks advancing in price and the number declining in price. Each day a net advance is determined by subtracting total declines from total advances. This total, when taken over time, comprises the advance-decline line, which analysts use to forecast market trends.
Generally, the A/D line moves up or down with the Dow. However, economists have noted that when the line declines while the Dow is moving upward, it indicates that the market is probably going to change direction and decline as well.