What causes bull and bear markets? They are partly a result of the supply and demand for securities. Investor psychology, government involvement in the economy and changes in economic activity also drive the market up or down. These forces combine to make investors bid higher or lower prices for stocks.
To qualify as a bull or bear market, a market must have been moving in its current direction (by about 20% of its value) for a sustained period. Small, short-term movements lasting days do not qualify; they may only indicate corrections or short-lived movements. Bull and bear markets signify long movements of significant proportion.
Investing During Bull Markets
A key to successful investing during a bull market is to take advantage of the rising prices. For most, this means buying securities early, watching them rise in value and then selling them when they reach a high. However, as simple as it sounds, this practice involves timing the market. Since no one knows exactly when the market will begin its climb or reach its peak, virtually no one can time the market perfectly. Investors often attempt to buy securities as they demonstrate a strong and steady rise and sell them as the market begins a strong move downward.
Investing During Bear Markets
Successful investing in bear markets can involve many different strategies. Some investors try to secure their assets in less volatile securities such as fixed-income bonds or money market securities. Others wait for the downward trend of prices to subside. When it does, they begin buying. Still others seek to take advantage of the falling prices.
When the market goes down, portfolios with a greater percentage of bonds and cash fare well because their returns are fixed. Many financial advisors emphasize the value of fixed income and cash equivalent investments during market downturns.
Another strategy is to simply wait for the downward prices to reverse themselves. Investors who wish to remain invested in stocks may seek out companies in industries that perform well in both bull and bear markets -- shares in these companies are called defensive stocks. The food industry, utilities, debt collection and telecommunications are popular defensive stocks. However, here is no guarantee that a defensive stock will perform well during any market period.
Finally, some investors attempt to exploit profits from the downward price movements. One method is to sell at the beginning of a downward turn, when prices are still high. Proponents of this strategy wait for prices to bottom out before reinvesting in the market. However, as simple as it sounds, this process involves the nearly impossible task of timing the market. Another, more complicated way to attempt to profit from falling prices is called selling short.