The current bull market on Wall Street has one thing in common with late comedian Rodney Dangerfield: It gets no respect.
Numbers don't lie. The Standard and Poor's 500, an index of large-company U.S. stocks, eked out a fresh five-year high Thursday at 1480.94. It is up 119% since the bull market began March 9, 2009, which means it is a member of the "100% Gain Club" -- just one of nine bull markets in the benchmark index's history to post a triple-digit gain, according to Bespoke Investment Group.
The current bull, which followed the worst market plunge since the Great Depression, is also 1,407 days old, which ranks eighth and also puts it in the "1,000 Day Club."
In cash terms, the stock market has generated $10.5 trillion in paper wealth since the bear market ended, according to Wilshire Associates.
So why is this historically significant market advance, which has enabled the S&P 500 to climb within 6% of its Oct. 9, 2007, all-time high of 1565.15, so despised?
"It is the Rodney Dangerfield of bull markets," says Gene Needles, CEO of American Beacon Funds. He says most investors don't know how strong the market is because they have focused on short-term volatility. "They've been reading all of the dire headlines. Fiscal cliff. Debt-ceiling debate. Europe. Pick your poison. It hasn't felt like a bull market. It's not like in the 1990s, when there was a ticker-tape-parade-type atmosphere every day on Wall Street."
The statistics tell a story of success, not failure. But investors, especially on Main Street, don't seem to care. For much of the past 44 months, many investors, psychologically and financially scarred by the 2008-09 financial crisis, have sworn off stocks.
In search of perceived safety and a good night's sleep, they have plowed the bulk of their life savings into low-yielding bonds or deposited their cash in banks that pay nearly zero interest. In the five years ended in 2012, individual investors have yanked an estimated $557 billion out of U.S. stock mutual funds, while funneling $1 trillion into bond funds, according to data from the Investment Company Institute, a fund company trade group.
It's as if investors can't forgive the market for burning them so badly a few years ago; a plunge that was less than a decade removed from the tech-stock-inspired crash in 2000. Investors have been unwilling to give the stock market a second, or third, chance.
"Investors don't really trust the market itself, so they don't trust the rally," says Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke Investment Group.
Despite lingering pessimism, the fact that the stock market keeps rising ever closer to its all-time high is a positive sign, counters Needles. "It's more of a sign of a market breakout than a top," he says. "Investors have a renewed appetite for risk."
There are other theories as to why stocks have lost their luster as the go-to investment to save for college or fund a retirement nest egg.
Andres Garcia-Amaya, a global markets strategist at JPMorgan Funds who happens to think the current stock market rally has a ways to go, blames investor complacency. The bond market has been in a bull market for three decades, and investors scared off by the volatility of stocks, he says, found comfort in the solid and competitive performance of bonds vs. stocks, especially the big outperformance during and after the 2008 financial crisis.
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