Wall Street bids Happy Birthday to bull market for stocks

Wednesday marks the seven-year anniversary of the start of the current bull market for U.S. stocks, one that has shaped up to be more notable for its duration than its intensity.

The current bull run of 84 months is the third-longest on record, with the average lasting slightly less than 59 months, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Though also above average, the gains are somewhat less impressive, with the S&P 500 stock index up 193 percent, fifth among 13 bull markets since the Great Depression. The average bull market climb is 167 percent.

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The Dow Jones industrial average and Nasdaq Composite, also bottomed on March 9, 2009. They grew about 159 percent and 266 percent, respectively, since then.

The bull started from a low point after the Great Recession and the financial crisis pushed stocks down 56.3 percent from the S&P's October 2007 high of 1,565.15 to 676.53.

A technicality might make Wednesday's whole birthday celebration moot. The S&P index actually peaked on May 21 and has yet to go above that. Should it fall more than 20 percent from that high of 2,130.82, it will confirm that the great bull actually ended back in May, and the market has technically been in a bear since then.

To confirm that the bull rolls on, the S&P will have to eclipse that high and continue its upward trajectory.

That's far from certain. Stocks have struggled early in the year, with the S&P off 3.2 percent for 2016 and 3.9 percent below the May high. With relatively weak earnings and some concerns about global growth, it's not clear stocks can resume their upward march.

"It has been long, it has been at times grueling, and it is tired," said Peter Kenny, senior market strategist at Global Markets Advisory Group, in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.

The market has room to move up, Kenny said, if corporate earnings and revenues can show signs of growth that would reveal stronger economic growth.

That would justify higher share prices for investors — and a more enthusiastic birthday celebration.