NEW YORK -- The stock market is back.Five and a half years after the start of a frightening drop that erased $11 trillion from stock portfolios and made investors despair of ever getting their money back, the Dow Jones industrial average has regained all the losses suffered during the Great Recession and reached a new high. The blue-chip index rose 125.95 points Tuesday and closed at 14,253.77, topping the previous record of 14,164.53 on Oct. 9, 2007, by 89.24 points."It signals that things are getting back to normal," said Nicolas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, a brokerage. "Unemployment is too high, economic growth too sluggish, but stocks are anticipating improvement."The new record suggests that investors who did not panic and sell their stocks in the 2008-09 financial crisis have fully recovered. Those who have reinvested dividends or added to their holdings have done even better. Since bottoming at 6,547.05 on March 9, 2009, the Dow has risen 7,706.72 points or 118 percent.The Dow record does not include the impact of inflation. Adjusted for that, the Dow would have to reach 15,502 to match its old record.The Standard and Poor's 500, a broader index, closed at 1,539.79, 25.36 points from its record.The last time the Dow hit a record, George W. Bush still had another year as president, Apple had just sold its first iPhone, and Lehman Brothers was still in business.But unemployment was also 4.7 percent versus 7.9 percent today, a reminder that stock gains have proved no elixir for the economy.Still, the Dow high is another sign that the nation is slowly healing after the worst recession since the 1930s. It comes as car sales are at a five-year high, home prices are rising, and U.S. companies continue to report big profits."Five years ago the Dow was at its previous high, and then we had a nightmare called the 'Great Recession,' and now we are waking up from it," James Angel, an associate professor of finance at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, told Marketwatch."The market is basically saying there is not a lot of bad news out there," Angel went on. "The sequester came, and the world did not end on March 1; the war in Afghanistan is winding down; the energy situation seems to be improving; and the housing market is on the mend. The world is not ending, and I think that is being reflected in stock prices."The stock gains have helped retirement and brokerage accounts held by many Americans recover. That, in turn, has helped push U.S. household wealth nearly back to its peak before the recession, though many in the middle class are still deep in the hole. Most middle-class wealth is tied up in home values, which are still a third below their peak.Good economic news Tuesday helped lift stocks. Retail sales in the 17 European countries that use the euro rose faster than expected, China's government said it will support ambitious growth targets, and a report showed that U.S. service companies grew last month at their fastest pace in a year."It feels great," says Marty Leclerc, chief investment officer at Barrack Yard Advisors, an investment firm. In early 2009, when stocks were plummeting, "it looked like Armageddon was nigh. It's a lot more fun to be in a rising market."In the depths of the recession four years ago, few investors would have predicted such a fast recovery. Some feared another Great Depression. Banks were collapsing, lending was frozen, world trade was plunging, and stocks were in free fall."People thought we were going to relive the 1930s," says Robert Buckland, chief global stock strategist at Citigroup. He called the stock gains since "pretty remarkable."From its peak in October 2007 to its bottom in March 2009, the Dow fell 54 percent. That was far less than the nearly 90 percent drop in the Great Depression but scary nonetheless. There had been 11 previous bear markets since World War II and none had reached 50 percent.The rich have been the biggest winners of this bull market. Eighty percent of all stocks are held by the wealthiest 10 percent of households.The question now: Can the stock rally continue? Here are four reasons it could:Plenty of cash: Companies have enough money to keep buying shares, which can push stocks up in the short term. Companies in the S&P 500 had more than $1 trillion in cash late last year, two-thirds more than in 2007.Low inflation and interest rates: Two factors that typically spell the end of a bull market seem a long way off. Inflation has been 1.6 percent the past 12 months, below the Fed's 2 percent target. Interest rates are near record lows; the short-term rate the Fed controls is being kept between zero and 0.25 percent.Four of the five previous bull markets since 1970 ended as investors got spooked by a recession, or the anticipation of one, and sold stocks.Economic expansion: The economic expansion that began 44 months ago in June 2009 is still relatively young. The previous three expansions lasted 73, 120 and 92 months. And this one may finally be getting traction: Sales of new homes in January hit the highest rate in four years.Most important, hiring is picking up. Employers added an average 200,000 jobs each month from November to January, compared with 150,000 in each of the prior three months.Stocks still seem reasonably priced based on the earnings that companies are generating.On average, stock prices are 17.5 times per-share earnings in 2012 versus 19.4 times in 2007. Today's price-earnings ratio is the same as the average since World War II.
Oct. 9, 2007
March 9, 2009
March 5, 2013
A dramatic comeback
The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 14,253.77, topping the previous record set on Oct. 9, 2007.