Neither economic cycles nor market cycles have a brain. They don’t know if they are young or old. They just keep going . . . until they stop. Strategists are fond of saying bull markets never die from old age – they are killed by some exogenous event, usually by the Fed or a bubble, like mortgages in 2007.
Since 1949, the average bull market has lasted 5 years and 4 months. The shortest was 1966-68 or two years. The longest was 1987-2000 or a little over twelve years. The current bull market is the second longest, having just celebrated its tenth birthday. Bears say the current bull market is due to die anytime now.
Analysts just want to know WHY this bull has lived so long. Some believe a long bull market naturally results from a severe bear market, like 2008/9. Maybe.
Beware of anybody who says it is different this time! If it is different this time, it is due to the unprecedented central bank involvement, both here and abroad. Maybe, that involvement puts a floor under bears, prolonging bull markets but creating mini-cycles.
The first mini-cycle started with the 2009 recovery and lasted until 2012, when the European crisis forced the ECB to act. The next mini-cycle ended in 2016, when the emerging markets slipped into recession and corporate profits fell for two straight quarters. The last mini-cycle ended last December, when the Fed nearly killed the bull. Since then, the Fed has turned “neutral” and China initiated strong fiscal stimulus.
From the strategist standpoint, there is great risk to “missing the bull” by keeping too much in cash. But, I believe that “missing the bull” is better than “catching the bear.” Increased cash level is good insurance against the bear, especially in a market with artificial intelligence seeping into algorithmic trading, with dark pools, with over-reliance on buybacks and with a befuddled SEC.
That doesn’t mean getting out of stocks entirely. Just control your exposure, even when the bulls run.