What exactly is a bear market?
I can't give you an "official" definition for a bear market, because one doesn't exist. But the generally accepted definition is a decline of roughly 20 percent or more in a broad stock market index, such as the Standard & Poor's 500. By that yardstick, we have been in a bear since March 12th when the S&P 500 closed 23 percent below its March 24, 2000 peak. Nasdaq had already fallen far more than 20 percent by the time the S&P 500 slipped into bear territory. But because Nasdaq is so heavily weighted toward technology stocks, most market experts don't consider it a good benchmark for tracking bears.
The eight bear markets we've had since 1960 (excluding the current one) have lasted 12 months on average, during which the S&P index declined an average 29.3 percent. It typically took the index another 20 months to climb back to its pre-bear peak. Of course, some of those downturns were mere Pooh bears -- the 1990 bear market lasted just two months and saw stock prices decline "barely" 20 percent -- while others were full-fledged grizzlies -- the 1973-74 bear market dragged on for 21 months during which stocks lost 48.2 percent of their value.
How long will this bear last? Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone else can make such predictions. But I do know that eventually this bear will give way to a sprightly new bull that will carry stock prices even higher than before.