Explainer: 11 historic bear markets

  • Image: Stock market crash of 1929

    By one common definition, a bear market occurs when stock prices fall for a sustained period, dropping at least 20 percent from their peak. The Great Recession was accompanied by a painful bear market that lasted nearly a year and a half.

    Here is a look at some notable bear markets of the past 80 years, with the crash of 1929 shown for comparison.

    Video: From the archives: tumult in the U.S. economy
  • September 1929 to June 1932

    The stock market crash of Oct. 29, 1929, marked the start of the Great Depression and sparked America's most famous bear market. The S&P 500 fell 86 percent in less than three years and did not regain its previous peak until 1954.

    S&P 500 high: 31.86

    Low: 4.4

    Loss: 86.1 percent

    Duration: 34 months

    Video: The crash of 1929: A look back
  • May 1946 to June 1949

    Image: Sylvia Morrison
    Keystone  /  Getty Images
    May 1946:  Sylvia Morrison examining the model of the trailer park which will be built in California and mainly rented to ex-military personnel.

    Less than a year after the end of World War II, stock prices peaked and began a long slide. As the postwar surge in demand tapered off and Americans poured their money into savings, the economy tipped into a sharp "inventory recession" in 1948.

    S&P 500 high: 19.25

    Low: 13.55

    Loss: 29.6 percent

    Duration: 37 months

  • December 1961 to June 1962

    Image: New York Stock Exchange trading floor
    William Lovelace  /  Getty Images
    May 1962: The trading floor of New York's Stock Exchange on Wall Street.

    The economy expanded, but the Bay of Pigs attack of April 1961 and Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 sparked Cold War jitters and a brief bear market.

    S&P 500 high: 72.64

    Low: 52.32

    Loss: 28.0 percent

    Duration: 6 months

  • November 1968 to May 1970

    Image: Vietnam War protester
    Hulton Archive  /  Getty Images
    A young female protester wearing a helmet faces down armed officers at an anti-Vietnam War demonstration outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

    Rapid-fire growth ended with a mild recession, accompanied by relatively high inflation of about 6 percent annually. The bear market began just as Richard Nixon was elected president after a tumltuous year of assassinations and riots. The weak economy added to a tense national atmosphere dominated by the growing U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

    S&P 500 high: 108.37

    Low: 69.29

    S&P 500 loss: 36.1 percent

    Duration: 18 months

  • January 1973 to October 1974

    Israel's Yom Kippur War and the subsequent Arab oil embargo sent energy prices soaring, sparking a lengthy recession. The annual consumer inflation rate topped 10 percent. The Watergate scandal forcing President Nixon to resign.

    S&P 500 high: 119.87

    Low: 62.28

    Loss: 48.0 percent

    Duration: 21 months

    Video: Oct. 17, 1973: OPEC announces its 1973 oil embargo
  • November 1980 to August 1982

    Image: Ronald Reagan
    Express  /  Getty Images
    1981: Ronald Reagan at his California ranch shortly before his inauguration as 40th president of the United States.

    After nearly a decade of sustained inflation, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to nearly 20 percent, pushing the economy into recession. The combination of high inflation and slow growth — known as stagflation — was a factor behind Ronald Reagan's victory over President Carter in 1980.

    Duration: 21 months

    High: 140.52

    Low: 101.44

    S&P 500 loss: 27.8 percent

  • August 1987 to December 1987

    After a prolonged bull run, computerized "program trading" strategies swamped the market and contributed to the Black Monday crash of Oct. 19. Investors were also nervous after a heated debate between the U.S. and Germany over currency valuations, sparking fears of a devaluation of the dollar. As a result the Dow fell 22.6 percent -- the worst day since the Panic of 1914. Yet while the days after the crash were frightening, by early December the market had bottomed out, and a new bull run had started.

    S&P 500 high: 337.89

    Low: 221.24

    Loss: 33.5 percent

    Duration: 3 months

    Video: Deja vu? 1987 markets rebound after 'Black Monday'
  • March 2000 to October 2002

    The bursting of the dot-com bubble followed a period of soaring stock prices and exuberant speculation on new Internet companies. Companies with little or no profits had market values that often equaled or exceeded that of established "old-economy" corporate giants. The Nasdaq composite index, which soared in value thanks to the listings of hundreds of tech start-ups, plunged 50 percent in nine months and never again came close to its 2000 peak.

    S&P 500 high: 1527.46

    Low: 776.76

    Loss: 49.1 percent

    Duration: 30 months

    Video: Free fall: The dot-com bust of 2001
  • October 2007 to March 2009

    A long-feared bursting of the housing bubble became a reality beginning in 2007, and the rising mortgage delinquency rate quickly spilled over into the credit market. By 2008, Wall Street giants like Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. were toppling, and the financial crisis erupted into a full-fledged panic. By February the market had fallen to its lowest levels since 1997.

    S&P 500 high: 1565.15, Oct. 9, 2007

    Low: 682.55, March 5, 2009

    S&P 500 loss: 56.4 percent

    Duration: 17 months

    Video: Dow goes under 10,000
  • Source: Global Financial Data, msnbc.com research

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