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'How much am I down?'

February 8, 2010 |  8:22 pm

The U.S. stock market is nearing “correction” territory, meaning a decline of more than 10% in key indexes from their recent highs. That would be the first pullback of that magnitude since the market’s big rebound  began last March.

The 10% mark, being a nice round number, may cause investors to ponder whether to join the selling, sit tight or buy more.

The average New York Stock Exchange stock, as measured by the NYSE composite index, was down 9.9% through Monday, measured from its recent closing high on Jan. 11 through Monday.

Pullbackchart The last significant drop in the NYSE composite occurred from early-June to mid-July. That decline shaved 9% off the index before the bulls regained control of the market.

This time around, amid fresh doubts about the global economic recovery, some investments already have declined more than 10% from their recent highs. The accompanying chart of popular exchange-traded funds shows the damage thus far.

The iShares Silver Trust, which tracks the price of silver, has dropped 21.9% from its 52-week reached Dec. 2. The surge in the dollar since late November has undermined commodities in general.

Measured in dollars, foreign stock markets generally are down more from their highs than U.S. blue-chip indexes. That reflects selling overseas as well as the effect of the rising dollar (as foreign currencies lose value against the greenback, investments denominated in those currencies translate into fewer dollars).

The iShares MSCI Brazil stock index fund is down 21.2% from its recent high on Dec. 2. The Vanguard FTSE All-World Ex-U.S. stock index fund, which invests in developed and emerging markets except the U.S., is off 13% from its high on Jan. 14.

Corporate bonds also have lost value in recent weeks, but they’re holding up much better than stocks, which is what you’d hope to see if you're relying on bonds to provide a portfolio cushion. The iShares Investment-Grade Corporate Bond index fund is down just 2.5% from its recent high reached Nov. 30.

-- Tom Petruno