What Is Bear Market?

5paisa Research Team Date: 28 Apr, 2023 02:48 PM IST


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People investing in stocks have always heard about the bull market and bear market. Investors commonly recognize a bull market as a situation in which stock prices are increasing, while a bear market is characterized by declining stock prices over a certain period of time.

Specifically, a bear market is identified when an investment's price falls by at least 20% from its previous high. However, sometimes people get confused between the bull market and the bear market. Hence, to clear that confusion, let’s have a detailed look at the bear market meaning to better comprehend the topic.

What is Bear Market?

A bear in stock market is a financial market scenario in which stock values, often measured by a broad-based index, fall by 20% or more from their recent highs, followed by negative investor attitude and pervasive despair. 
A bear market is frequently connected with economic recessions and can linger for months or even years, resulting in substantial losses for investors. 

How to Recognize a Bear Market?

Recognizing a bear market can be challenging, but there are several key indicators to watch for.

●    Declining Stock Prices: The most obvious sign of a bear market is declining stock prices. Typically, a bear market is characterized by a decline of at least 20% from recent highs, but it can be even more severe.

●    Negative Investor Sentiment: Bear markets are often accompanied by negative investor sentiment and widespread pessimism. Investors may become fearful, which can lead to a panic sell-off, exacerbating the decline.

●    Economic Indicators: Economic indicators such as rising unemployment, decreasing consumer spending, and slowing economic growth can signal a bear market. These indicators can suggest that the economy is weakening, which can lead to lower earnings and lower stock prices.

●    Technical Analysis: Technical analysis can help investors identify a bear market. Technical indicators such as moving averages and chart patterns can signal a change in trend, indicating that a bear market is likely.

●    Market Breadth: Market breadth measures the number of stocks that are advancing versus the number of stocks that are declining. In a bear market, market breadth tends to be negative, with more stocks declining than advancing.

●    Volatility: Volatility tends to increase during a bear market, as investors become more uncertain and fearful. Increased volatility can make it more challenging to trade and can lead to wider price swings.

It's essential to remember that bear markets can be prolonged and unpredictable, and it's crucial to have a solid investment strategy in place to navigate through challenging market conditions.

Causes of a Bear Market

A bear market is a situation where securities or stocks experience prolonged price declines. The term bear market is often associated with negative economic sentiments, such as a decline in business profits, high unemployment rates, and low consumer confidence. Here are some of the most common causes of a bear market:

●    Economic Recession: A bear market can be triggered by an economic recession. During a recession, businesses suffer, and many may fail, leading to high levels of unemployment and a decrease in consumer spending. As a result, corporate earnings decline, causing investors to sell their shares, leading to a bear market.

●    High Inflation Rates: Inflation occurs when prices of goods and services rise faster than wages and salaries. This can lead to a reduction in purchasing power, and consumers will spend less. This has a negative effect on companies, and stock prices may drop, causing a bear market.

●    Geopolitical Uncertainty: Political instability or war can cause a bear market. This is because these situations can disrupt global trade, causing a decrease in corporate earnings and stock prices.

●    Tight Monetary Policy: Central banks may increase interest rates or tighten monetary policy to combat inflation, which can lead to a bear market. This is because the cost of borrowing increases, and companies may struggle to finance projects and expansion plans.

●    Overvalued Market: A market that has been on a bull run for a long time may become overvalued, causing investors to sell their shares, leading to a bear market.

Types of a Bear Market

Bear markets can be classified into different types, depending on their characteristics and causes. Here are three common types of bear markets:

1.    Secular Bear Market: A secular bear market is a prolonged period of time, typically lasting several years or more, during which stock prices experience a long-term decline or remain flat with no significant growth.
Secular bear markets are characterized by a combination of economic, social, and political factors that create an environment that is unfavorable to sustained stock market growth. 

A long-lasting bearish outlook resulting from secular trends can dissuade investors from engaging in significant investment opportunities. During such times, high-interest rates on low-risk instruments such as treasury bills and bonds often lure investors away from stock market investments, thereby reducing the overall demand for such instruments and contributing to a bearish market.

The period between 1983 to 2002 in the United States is an example of a secular trend that led to a bearish market. During this time, the dot-com bubble burst, resulting in a significant decline in stock prices and a prolonged period of sluggish market performance. This trend discouraged investors from engaging in significant investment ventures, and many opted for low-risk investments instead.

2.    Cyclical Bear Market: Cyclical bear markets are often tied to economic cycle changes, which occur every 7-10 years. These markets frequently arise during a period of sustained economic expansion in which all main sectors of the economy are flourishing. A cyclical drop in stock prices is normal at such periods, as investors become more risk-averse and modify their investment portfolios accordingly. 
However, these bear markets tend to be short-lived and automatically adjust after a few months, as stock prices regain a positive outlook.

The 2008-09 global economic slowdown is an instance of an adverse market trend. The subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, which was driven by a massively inflated housing asset bubble, sparked this downturn. As a result of the crisis, stock prices fell significantly as investors grew more risk-averse and shifted their investments to lower-risk assets. Regardless of how severe the crisis was, the stock market finally recovered, highlighting the cyclical nature of bad markets.

Consequences of a Bear market

Bear markets can have significant consequences for investors, businesses, and the broader economy. Some of the consequences of a bear market include:

●    Decline in Stock Prices: The most apparent consequence of a bear market is a significant decline in stock prices. This decline can result in significant losses for investors who hold stocks and other market-related instruments.

    Reduced Investment Activity: A bear market can discourage investors from investing in the stock market, which can lead to a reduction in overall investment activity. This reduction in investment activity can impact businesses that rely on investments to fund their operations.

●    Lower Consumer Spending: As stock prices decline, investors may become more risk-averse and reduce their spending, leading to a reduction in consumer spending. This decline in consumer spending can impact businesses that rely on consumer demand to drive their sales.

●    Economic Slowdown: A bear market can contribute to an economic slowdown, as businesses and consumers become more cautious with their spending. This slowdown can lead to job losses, reduced economic growth, and other negative consequences for the broader economy.

●    Increased Volatility: Bear markets are often characterized by increased volatility in the stock market, which can create uncertainty and lead to further declines in stock prices.

Market Correction Vs Bear Market

Market corrections and bear markets are both market conditions characterized by a decline in stock prices. However, there are significant differences between these two market conditions.

A market correction is a relatively short-term decline in stock prices, typically ranging from 10-20%, that occurs in response to short-term market conditions or events. These corrections are a normal part of the stock market cycle and often occur as a result of changes in investor sentiment, economic data, or other factors.

On the other hand, a bear market is a more severe and prolonged decline in stock prices, typically lasting several months or even years. Bear markets are often driven by broader economic factors, such as a recession or significant financial crisis, and can result in a decline of 20% or more in stock prices.

Another key difference between market corrections and bear markets is their impact on investor sentiment. Market corrections are often seen as buying opportunities by investors who believe that the underlying fundamentals of the economy and the stock market are still strong. In contrast, bear markets can create a sense of panic and uncertainty among investors, leading to increased selling activity and a further decline in stock prices.

Overall, market corrections and bear markets are both market conditions characterized by a decline in stock prices, but they differ in terms of their severity, duration, and impact on investor sentiment.

Bear in Share Market – History

Cyclical changes in the economic cycle may cause stagflation in economies, which are defined by a downward trend in the total price level, including a drop in stock prices owing to diminished demand, which can affect the value of a country's benchmark indices. The earliest symptom of an impending recession is usually a big dip in major indexes connected with a country's leading stock exchanges, such as the Sensex and Nifty points in India.

To better understand the impact of recessions on the stock market, we can examine major bearish markets that have occurred in the past.

●    The great depression of 1929

The 1929 Great Depression was precipitated by a pessimistic market trend and lasted around ten years. This was exacerbated by a massive speculative frenzy in the preceding years, which resulted in individuals acquiring overpriced assets at prices well beyond their genuine value. This culminated in surplus production and supply in the market, resulting in a considerable drop in the average price level and deflation, both of which had an impact on the stock market.

●    2008 global financial slowdown

The subprime mortgage crisis in America, as well as the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., precipitated the 2008 global financial contraction, which had a considerable impact on India. On January 31, 2008, the Sensex plummeted 1408 points. While the globe grappled with the aftermath of the crisis, Indian investors adopted a conservative investing strategy, preferring to retain funds or store them in risk-free instruments.

●    2020 COVID-19 crash

The COVID-19 epidemic, which swept around the world and caused economic shutdowns in the majority of industrialized nations, including the U.S., was the catalyst for the 2020 bear market. The fastest bear market entry into the stock market in history occurred in early 2020 as a result of how quickly economic anxiety spread.

What Should Investors Do?

During a bear market, individuals who are less willing to take risks tend to withdraw their investments as prices begin to fall. This cautious approach often results in significant losses for these investors, which further reduces their willingness to engage in speculative investment. Many individuals tend to focus on short-term losses rather than long-term growth and sell their securities out of fear. However, it's important to note that a bear market will eventually adjust to reflect the true value of stocks, which could result in capital gains for shareholders who purchased securities at a lower cost. This adjustment typically takes a few months to occur.

How to Invest in a Bear Market?

Investing in a bear market can be challenging, but it can also present opportunities for savvy investors to buy stocks at lower prices. Here are some strategies that investors can use when investing in a bear market:

●    Have a Long-term Perspective: It's essential to have a long-term perspective when investing in a bear market. Short-term fluctuations in the market can be unpredictable and can cause panic selling, but over the long term, the market tends to recover.

●    Diversify Your Portfolio: Diversification is important in any market, but especially in a bear market. By diversifying your portfolio, you can spread your risk and reduce the impact of any one stock or sector.

●    Focus on Quality: In a bear market, high-quality companies with strong fundamentals and good cash flows tend to hold up better than others. Focus on investing in companies with a long history of profitability, strong balance sheets, and competitive advantages.

    Consider Defensive Stocks: Defensive stocks are companies that provide essential products or services that people need regardless of the economic environment. These can include utilities, healthcare, and consumer staples companies. Defensive stocks tend to hold up better during a bear market.


When stock prices drop 20% or more from a recent high, it might be frightening, but investors shouldn't despair.

The median bear market lasts less than a year, and investors may lessen its impacts by utilizing straightforward strategies like dollar-cost averaging, diversification, investing in areas that are more resilient to recessions, and putting a priority on the lengthy period.

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