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It's not your imagination: This bear is a mean one

October 7, 2008 |  9:31 pm

As bear markets go, this one now is worse than average.

At Tuesday’s close of 996.23 the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down 36.3% from its record closing high reached on Oct. 9, 2007.

Bearmarkets Since 1937 there have been 11 bear markets, as Standard & Poor’s measures them. The average loss of value, from peak to trough, was 34% (not counting the current decline).

The minimum decline to qualify as a bear market is a 20% drop in the index.

Ned Davis Research calculates bull and bear markets differently, and counts 21 bear phases since the late 1930s, excluding this one. By its measure the average S&P 500 loss has been 29%.

In terms of duration, bear markets have been as short as three months (in 1987 and again in 1990) and as long as 62 months (1937-42), according to S&P.

At 12 months, the current bear is well short of the average length of 20 months, although excluding 1937-42 the average is 16.2 months, based on S&P data.

Two other historical notes:

--- If you’re rooting for this sell-off to end soon, we’re in the right month for it: October has a reputation as a bear slayer. Five of the 11 bear markets that S&P counts have ended in October (in 1957, 1966, 1974, 1990 and 2002).

--- Thursday marks a double anniversary in the annals of recent bull and bear markets: The 2000-02 bear ended on Oct. 9, 2002, with the S&P 500 at 776.76. The bull market that followed ended last year on the same date, with the index at 1,565.15.

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