It's the Same Bear Market

The S&P 500 closed at 4,117 on Friday, more than 10% below its recent peak in late July. Some are saying it’s a brand-new bear market for stocks. In this view there was a bear market in 2022, a bull market from October 2022 through July this year, and a new bear market that started in August.

We don’t think this is the appropriate way to look at things. This is not a new bear market. Instead, it’s the same bear market. We had a bear market in 2022, a temporary rally, and then the bear market reasserted itself.

The driving forces behind the ongoing bear market have not changed. Federal policy of easy money and extremely loose fiscal policy during COVID kept a serious recession at bay. That is basically over now. The M2 measure of money is down 3.6% in the past twelve months. Second, the massive episodes of COVID-era government spending/stimulus had to eventually wear off, which is revealing lots of malinvestment and now generating economic headwinds.

We think much of the headwinds from these shifts are still in front of us. Yes, the economy grew at a rapid pace in the third quarter but that includes contributions from consumer spending and inventory accumulation that were unsustainably hot. Meanwhile, business investment should slow as companies can earn robust returns by hoarding cash with little to no credit risk. Speaking of interest rates, they are now above inflation across the yield curve. The artificial boost from artificially low rates is gone.