Bear and bull figurines standing off atop newspaper of stock market news

The Bear Market in Stocks has Finally Arrived

Investors have noticed that the stock market has gone through a radical change in the past few months.

Veteran investor Mark D. Cook, who pointed out red flags a year ago, feels vindicated. Finally, stock prices confirmed what he saw in 2014: We’re in a bear market and about to go over the cliff, he says. Here is a chat I had with Cook over the weekend.

Why do you still believe we’re in a bear market?

First, the oil and gas situation is a huge problem, and it will continue. We’re not getting bounces. Instead, oil investors just want to sell. The second problem, and it’s just getting started, is China. China is like an athlete that twisted his ankle and needs time to heal. If the ankle doesn’t heal, it will get worse, and that’s what is happening right now.

Is there anything technical that you are looking at?

Yes. First, every rally in a bear market has no traction. In a bull market, rallies will hold for days or weeks. Now we’re getting sharp “one-day wonders” that fail. Every hope is dashed. That is a strong characteristic of a bear market. Second, the NYSE Tick is registering no institutional activity on the buy side. Every rally is a chance for mutual funds to lighten positions. And this is only January. Wait until people look at their January statements. Many will be shocked.

If this is a bear market, how will investors react in the months ahead?

There are four psychological stages that people go through during a bear market. Right now, investors know the market is struggling but most believe it will come back. In fact, many see this as a buying opportunity. Here are the four stages:

Stage 1: Denial

Right now, we’re in the denial stage. Anyone who is bullish is too stubborn to change his or her view. Many people have their head in the sand, and some may not even look at their January statements. Many believe the market will come back. Right now, many are still buying the dips, which does not work in a bear market. This is similar to what has happened to oil.

Stage 2: High Anxiety

In this stage, many investors are like a deer in the headlights. They are frozen and nervous but don’t do anything. They are told by brokers and financial experts to stay calm and don’t panic. We haven’t reached this stage yet.

Stage 3: Fear

In this stage, the rampant bulls finally realize they are in trouble. If they have bought stocks on margin, they might be getting calls from their broker to add money to losing positions. In this stage, they are watching in fear as their portfolio burns. They reluctantly start to take action as fear increases. Often they say to themselves, “When my stock gets back to even, I will sell.”

Stage 4: Panic

This is what I call the “uncle” stage. This is when panicked investors throw in the towel and take action. They want to get out of the market while they still have something left. At this stage, there is huge downside volume and double-digit declines on the indexes. At the end of Stage 4, many people vow to never buy stocks again. We are not even close to this stage yet. Typically, we hit bottom when investors capitulate after losses of 20% to 50% in their stock portfolios.

This story originally appeared in MarketWatch by Michael Sincere on January 20, 2016. View article here.


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