The WSJ lays out the gloomy news in a P1 story that suggests similarities with the 1930s and 1970s, when stocks barely budged. The S&P 500 finished at 1352.99 on Tuesday, below the 1362.80 it hit in April 1999. After dividends and inflation are factored, that's average growth of 1.3 percent a year over the past 10 years, well below the historical norm. And the era of weak returns may not be over. (By the way, the Dow is off more than 100 points in early trading.)
So far, the current decade hasn't featured the high inflation of the 1970s or the high unemployment of the 1930s. That makes some analysts and economists hopeful that the stock troubles won't be as bad or last as long as they did back then, despite the housing crisis and the breakdown in parts of the mortgage and lending businesses. Many of them hope that the Federal Reserve will do a better job of righting the ship than it did in those prior decades. Finance professor Jeremy Siegel at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School has written about stock behavior back into the 19th century. During the past decade, he points out, the worst years were from 2000 through 2002, when stocks fell sharply. Although the S&P 500 has been inconsistent since then -- rising strongly in 2003, then registering single-digit gains in 2004, 2005 and 2007 -- he considers the bad times largely past. Other optimists agree.
But Yale economist Robert Shiller, who predicted the market trouble in his 2000 book "Irrational Exuberance," warns that the market still hasn't shaken off its excesses. He and some other analysts think the latest volatility is a symptom of more trouble to come. "I have to say that this isn't a great time to be in the stock market," says Prof. Shiller. "The housing crisis that we are going through is going to put a damper on the economy that is longer than a recession. I don't see the stock troubles ending as quickly as many people are imagining."