There's life in the bull market yet

Investors are being forced to take greater risks in the hunt for returns, says John Stepek. And yet, the bull market still has legs.


King: in charge in 2009
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2016 Shutterstock. No use without permission.)

A decade ago this week, stockmarkets in the developed world hit their financial crisis rock bottoms. In the US, the S&P 500 hit the appropriate mid-session low of 666 on 6 March 2009.

In the UK, the FTSE 100 bottomed out a bit earlier hitting 3,512 on 3 March. Later that week, the Bank of England (still run by Mervyn King at the time) announced it would start quantitative easing (QE printing money). The Federal Reserve in the US had already started its own QE programme in November 2008. On both sides of the Atlantic, banks had been bailed out or part-nationalised all over the place.

Why did the market bottom out at that point? Things still looked incredibly bleak. The economy was in recession. Everyone feared for their jobs (assuming they still had them). House prices probably the key barometer of economic health for the average person in the street were crashing (although the collapse in interest rates soon reversed that). And no one had any idea of what printing money or propping up so many different sectors of the economy (we all talk about the banks, but car manufacturers got a fair bit of help too) would do to inflation, or the financial system, in the long or the short term.

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For me, the "tell" was when one broadsheet put out a front-page headline on the financial crisis, illustrated with a picture of St Paul's during the Blitz it was the kind of hyperbole that would make any rational bystander think: "Okay, things are bad but they're not that bad".

The obvious question now is: ten years on, where are we now? Stockmarkets have barely looked back since that week in March. Indeed, in the US stocks have managed a virtually unbroken bull market since (depending on exactly which definition you use and which index you're measuring, of course there were some pretty dramatic wobbles in 2011 and 2015, not to mention last year's bout of panic).

And yet I'd be hard pushed to describe today's investors as carefree. Markets may not be cheap, but investment is being driven more by a sense of oppression a sense that there's no other option but to take a risk. So I suspect there's life in the bull yet as long as you avoid the most ridiculously overvalued parts of the markets.

Matthew Partridge has suggestions on where you canfind promising smaller companies in our cover story this week (if Brexit isn't as catastrophic as the most hysterical headlines suggest, smaller domestically focused UK stocks might have particular appeal).

Marina Gerner suggests a couple of China funds also in this week's issue China might be opaque and risky, but it's also cheap, having endured its own nasty bear market. And if you're not convinced of the bull case, do read Merryn's interview with financial historian Russell Napier Russell explains why gold is a good buy, even if we face another potential deflationary collapse, as he fears.

And if you'd like to get hold of The Sceptical Investor, MoneyWeek readers can get 25% off.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.