There’s calm. There’s dead. And then there’s the current U.S. stock market, which keeps inching up to one record high after another with remarkably little fanfare. For 10 trading days in June, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index shifted less than one-quarter of a percentage point, and it’s been 47 days since the gauge moved more than 1 percent in a single session. The last time the market saw such an uninterrupted stretch of calm, Microsoft released Windows 95 and O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of a double murder.
The S&P has returned 190 percent since bottoming out in March 2009. At 1,934 days, the rally is the fourth-longest bull market—a period with at least a 20 percent gain and no 20 percent declines—on record. As they say on Wall Street, the resurgence is untrusted, unloved, and certainly no cause for celebration. Trading volume continues to dwindle, part of a years-long decline, and the VIX index, a measure of expected volatility, is near the lowest levels ever recorded. Investors pulled money out of U.S. equity funds for an eighth consecutive week, the Investment Company Institute reported on June 25, plowing $20 billion into the perceived safety of bonds. A host of concerns—Is this another bubble? Will the Federal Reserve raise rates? Is inflation a threat? Are valuations too high?—is canceling out any elation over the almost $10 trillion added to the market value of S&P 500 companies since 2008.