The Beginner Trader

Bulls vs Bears

Even if you’ve never invested a penny in your life, you have likely heard the term “bullish” being used in regards to not only stocks, but any number of other subjects. For example, you may be bullish about your favorite team’s chances of winning a championship. Meaning, you think the chances are good. Being “bearish” mean the exact opposite. 

If you’ve never heard the term and are unclear about how it applies to the stock market, continue reading for a quick overview. 

Bull Market vs. Bear Market

One of the factors to take into consideration when looking for a trade is determine whether we are currently in a bull or bear market. Simply put, is the stock market going up, or going down. If the stock market is generally trending up for an extended period of time, we may be in a bull market. The exact opposite if true of a bear market.

This could be taken into account as a daily status, “are stocks generally  up, or down today?” to help you decide how much risk is involved in a particular trade. It’s true definition however would be if the stock market is trading above or below its 200 day moving average. 

You can look this up easily using your favorite charting software. If you don’t have charting software you like to use or have not used any before, you can use the free versions at www.StockCharts.com or www.Tradingview.com. 

Chart Bear Market

Bear Market Signal

In these images I will use a very recent, real world example. When Covid 19 began to wreak havoc on the economy we saw the stock market take a dive. Near the end of February 2020, the S&P 500 index closed below it’s 200 day moving average, the red line. This is a confirmation that the stock market is in decline. Further confirmed when the blue line (50 day moving average) also crossed below the 200ma. That is know as a “death cross” and people start to panic, and selling intensifies. You can see that play out in the larger red candle in mid-March. 

You will also hear folks on CNBC and twitter say that a bear market has begun when stocks fall 20% from recent highs. That can also be a signal to proceed with caution.

 

Chart - Bull Market

Bull Market Signal

Two months after the signal of the start of the bear market, we got the opposite signal. The first candle to reclaim the 200MA happened on April 18, 2020. It did slip slightly below it on the next day, but stocks continued to rise after that. The 50MA then crossed the 200MA in June, and stocks have generally continued in an uptrend since. 

Why does it matter to us?

If we are in a bear market that doesn’t mean we can’t buy stocks. In fact, just the opposite may be true. It may be a good time to find value stocks, or in the case of Covid, look for stocks that are likely to have a turn around once we find a vaccine. It does mean however, that we have to be cautious. Maybe be more patient, wait for opportunities, and try to scale in to a position rather than dump all your money into a stock at once. Bear markets can also be great for people that are comfortable with shorting stocks. Shorting stocks isn’t for everyone, or the faint of heart as they can be much more risky than just going long on a stock. That is a lesson for another day though. 

A saying you will hear a lot when it comes to investing will be “Bulls make money. Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered.” Don’t be a pig. In other words, you can make money no matter which direction the stock market is going, but only if you know what you’re doing. Understanding the direction of the market is often the first step in entering a trade, but not the only one. 

Have anything to add to the discussion? Follow me on Twitter, @cchapeton, or find my Facebook page.