The stock market moves up and down every day, but when movements continue downwards for a period of time the market is referred to as a 'bear market'. Upward moving markets are 'bull markets'. If a particular stock is doing well, it is said to be bullish. If it is losing value it is bearish.
Bull and Bear are the terms to describe the general conditions of the stock market. These do not refer to short term fluctuations – a bear market is commonly understood as one where prices of key stocks have fallen in price by 20% or more over a period of at least 2 months. Even during a bear market, however, prices may increase temporarily. Bull markets are the opposite of bear markets – they are indicated by a rise in prices of key stocks over a certain period of time.
Usually stock market conditions reflect the state of the economy. During bull markets the economy is doing well, unemployment is low and interest rates are reasonable. Bear markets usually occur during times of economic slowdown. Investors lose confidence and companies may begin laying off workers. At the extremes, an exaggerated bear market can lead to a crash brought on by panic selling. An exaggerated bull market can be caused by over-enthusiasm of investors. It leads to a market 'bubble' that will eventually burst.
Although most money can be made during bull markets, there are also opportunities during bear markets. Knowing the characteristics of each type of market allows investors to profit from them. As would be expected, when the market is bullish investors wish to buy up stock. The economy is doing well and people have extra money which they wish to invest in stocks. This creates a situation of short supply which drives up prices even higher. During bear markets, on the other hand, prices are falling so investors wish to unload their stocks and put their money in fixed-return instruments such as bonds. As money is withdrawn from the stock market, supply exceeds demand which drives prices down even further.
It is easiest to make money during a bull market. Getting in right at the beginning will allow you to make the most profits. During a bull market any dips in the market are temporary and should soon be corrected. The upward rising prices can't go on forever, though, so the investor needs to be able to gauge when the market reaches its peak and sell at that time.
Bear markets represent opportunities to pick up stocks at bargain prices. Getting in near the end of a bear market offers the greatest chance for profit. The prices will most likely fall before they recover, so the investor should be prepared for some short term loss. Short-selling is also an investment strategy during bear markets. Short selling involves selling stock that you do not own in the anticipation of further price drops, so that when it comes time to deliver you can buy the stock for less than you sold it.
Fixed return investments such as CAs and bonds can be used to generate income during a bear market. So called 'defensive stocks' are also safe to buy at any time. These include government owned utilities that provide necessities no matter what state the economy is in.
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