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Time To Retire The 20% Bull/Bear Market Rule

Officially, crude oil has had the worst bull market ever.

According to a headline on Bloomberg on Monday, crude is in a bull market. The headline screamed "WTI CRUDE CLOSES UP 29% FROM AUG 24 LOW, ENTERS BULL MARKET"! On Tuesday, after a 7.7% fall from Monday's close (-100%, annualized), the bull market doesn't seem so…well, ebullient.

Okay, sure, this is a pet peeve of mine. I don't know whose idea it was to call a 20% advance from the prior low a bull market, and a 20% decline from the prior high a bear market, but I am pretty sure that they didn't intend for that 20% to be applied to all markets, at all times. So a 5-year Treasury Note is not in a bear market until it falls 20 points (or…is that 20% of the current yield? I guess it depends who writes the headlines!), but energy futures which can move 20% in a couple of days, or corn futures which can double literally overnight if there is a drought, can be in bull and bear markets a couple of times per month. Does this make sense?

Add to this the obvious absurdity of the idea that we can know in advance whether an asset is in a bull or bear market. If you are telling me that crude rallying 20% off the lows means that it is in a bull market, and that means I can be long crude comfortably, knowing it is likely to rally from here - then you need to quit telling me anything and go make a fortune trading.

We can only know a bull market or a bear market in hindsight. That is, even if 20% is the magic number (and I can't think of why that would be so), the best we can say is that crude was in a bull market on Thursday, Friday, and Monday when it rallied about 27%. Does that help us, going into Tuesday?


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