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:

3. 1982-87 – 229 percent gain

John P. Duffy, center, specialist at Spear, Leeds & Kellogg, gives a "V" for victory sign on the New York Stock Exchange on Jan. 8, 1987, after the Dow Jones topped 2000. By August, stocks would peak, having more than tripled in five years.

In 1982, the US economy was gripped by the second of back-to-back recessions. Unemployment hit a post-Depression high of 10.8 percent. One in four adults was unemployed in Rockford, Ill. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker pushed the prime interest rate to 21.5 percent in his effort to lick stubborn inflation. Savings and loan institutions began to falter as their high-risk loans turned sour.

On Aug. 12, the S&P 500 dipped to 102.42, setting the stage for the third-biggest bull market in stocks since 1929. Inflation and unemployment fell. In 1984, President Reagan would cruise to reelection with an ad telling voters "It's morning again in America." By 1987, the stock market had tripled. Shareholders who were able to see beyond the gloom of the early 1980s reaped a huge return.

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