The Dow Jones industrial average has finally hit 20,000, and if it closes above that mark on Wednesday, it will surely be a market milestone. But if the long wait for Dow 20,000 already tired you out, don't feel bad.
Dow 20,000 is not quite like running a four-minute mile or breaking the sound barrier. It's little more than an imaginary line.
As a practical matter, Dow 20,001 will make investors richer than Dow 20,000, but surely won't get as much attention. Big round numbers are easier to remember and visualize than the ones marking records leading up to them, just as the 20-foot pole vault seems easier to imagine than 19 feet, 11½ inches.
"Hitting 20,000 is significant only in terms of its emotional and psychological impact on us," said Jeremy Torgerson, CEO of NVest Advisors in Brownsville, Texas. "We humans love round numbers.
"Remember New Year's Day 2000, as a recent example," he added. "That new year was somehow more meaningful than January 2, 2001, or January 1, 1999."
The Dow's climb up over time can't make any claim to being a natural law of market evolution. It's purely a human invention,created by The Wall Street Journal in 1896, and its makeup changes from time to time based on choices by editors at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
"The fact that people even monitor the Dow is an artifact of history," said Robert Johnson, president of the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.