The biggest bull markets in history: Comparison chart

How do the 5 biggest bull markets in the history of the S&P 500 compare?

The S&P 500 was in a bull market that began on 12 October 2022 and grew by 21% in its first 248 market days until 9 October 2023. In contrast, the most successful bull market ever, the tech boom bull market, saw returns of 20% during the same timeframe.

We looked at the history of the S&P 500 to find the 5 biggest bull markets and see how they compare to the current bull market, for those interested in tracking the market on their trading platform. The chart compares the length and size of the top 5 bull markets throughout the history of the S&P 500.

1) Tech boom bull market (1987-2000)

The tech boom bull market is the biggest and longest bull market ever recorded in the history of the S&P 500, returning a stunning 582% and lasting a total of 4494 days (12 years and 4 months).

This period of sustained growth started in 1987 and ended dramatically with the dot-com bust. It was fuelled by the end of the Cold War and the beginnings of the internet, which started to see the founding of tech companies. However, in 2000, the bubble burst and many dot-com startups went out of business, causing a fall in technology stocks and a consequent crash in the market.

2) Post-financial crisis recovery bull market (2009-2020)

The post-financial crisis recovery bull market was the second biggest ever and returned 401% over 11 years.

This bull market came off the back of the second biggest crash between 2007 and 2009, also known as the financial crisis caused by subprime mortgage lending, and was part of a long and slow recovery from this crisis when banks had to be bailed out. The period of sustained growth lasted 3999 days and came to a halt at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

3) Post-World War II expansion bull market (1949-1956)

During the period following World War II, there was another large bull market and the S&P 500 grew 266% as a result of global recovery after the war. This positive period lasted 2607 days, (7 years and 1 month) and is the only bull market on this list that came after a war.

Bull markets are typically seen in periods of global financial recovery, which often follow either market crashes or events that have a negative impact on the global economy.

4) Reaganomics bull market (1982-1987)

The Reaganomics bull market saw the S&P 500 increase by 229%. A rapid period of growth occurred due to stark neoliberal economic policy throughout the Reagan era.

This bull market lasted 1839 days (5 years) and ended a few months before Black Monday in 1987, the worst day in the history of the stock market. On Black Monday, the S&P 500 dropped by over 20% in a day.

5) Mid 1970s to early 1980s bull market (1974-1981)

The mid-1970s to early 1980s bull market followed the oil shocks in the early 1970s and returned 125% by 1980. This period lasted 2247 days, (6 years and 2 months). Interestingly, the Reaganomics bull market was over a year shorter than the 1970s-1980s bull market, whilst returning almost double the amount of growth.

You can see the full details of the five biggest bull markets in the table below.

Rank Bull Markets Start date End date Days Years Return
1 Tech boom bull market (1987-2000) 4th December 1987 24th March 2000 £4,494 12.3 582.15%
2 Post-financial crisis recovery bull market (2009-2020) 9th March 2009 19th February 2020 £3,999 11 400.52%
3 Post-World War II expansion bull market (1949-1956) 13th June 1949 2nd August 1956 £2,607 7.1 266.35%
4 Reaganomics bull market (1982-1987) 12th August 1982 25th August 1987 £1,839 5 228.81%
5 Mid 1970s to early 1980s bull market (1974-1981) 3rd October 1974 28th November 1980 £2,248 6.2 125.63%

How should investors look at bull markets?

George Sweeney

Finder investing expert, George Sweeney, comments

Although recovery bull markets are an excellent opportunity to build wealth, they don’t last forever. On average, 1,102 days, just over 3 years.

As the adage goes, investors should make hay while the sun shines and try not to miss out on rebuilding market growth. Yet, they should also be prepared to buckle up for another crash (followed by a bear market) at some stage. How long we get between these moments of despair and joy fluctuates. So, investors must keep a cool head, be patient, and stay invested for the long haul.

Methodology

We collected the start and end dates of the biggest bull markets in the history of the S&P 500, along with the exact number of days each bull market lasted and their returns, based on the definition of a bull market as a rise of 20% or more from the lowest close reached after a market decline to the next market high.

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