Bull markets: how this one stacks up in history

The bull market that started in 2009 is proving to be one for the history books. From 2009 through the end of 2013, the market is up 173 percent, as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500 index. So how does that stack up against the biggest bull markets of the past eight decades? Take a look:

5. 1935-37 – 132 percent gain

Richard Drew/AP
A board overlooking the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows an intraday number above 1600 for the S&P 500, Friday, May 3, 2013. The index closed above 1600 for the first time in history. This latest bull market is now the fifth-biggest bull market since 1929, eclipsing the impressive run-up of the mid-1930s.

Although the 1930s was a decade of unmitigated hardship, the stock market was punctuated with periods of euphoric rises in the aftermath of the crash of 1929. After the gloomy period of 1929-32, when stocks lost 86 percent of their value, the stock market experienced an incredible five bull markets (increases of 20 percent or more) during the rest of the '30s. Of course, each of those was interrupted by a bear market (a decline of 20 percent or more). It would take until September 1954 – nearly 25 years to the day – before the S&P would regain its 1929 high.

The current bull market eclipsed this Depression-era run-up on the last trading day of March 2013.

(A word about the data: The S&P 500 index did not exist until the 1950s. For earlier years, analysts have reconstructed what they believe the S&P 500 would have traded at, based on earlier Standard & Poor's indexes and other data. Some analysts have reconstructed the index back to 1871, but these data rely on estimated monthly averages that, even if accurate, miss some of the market's dynamism on upswings and down cycles. For instance, the monthly data show an immense 413 percent bull market between 1949 and 1961, the second-best upswing in 140 years. But the monthly averages miss the 1956-57 bear market that interrupted that huge run. Daily data – based on the market close – break that bull market into two upward moves: still impressive, but far less than 413 percent. The data presented here are based on daily closing numbers.)

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