Here's how long stock market corrections last and how bad they can get

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The U.S. stock market fell into correction territory Thursday as investors punished equities in favor of safer assets as anxiety over the spread and potential impact of the virulent coronavirus.

A correction is defined as a 10% decline in one of the major U.S. stock indexes, typically the S&P 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average, from a recent 52-week high close.

History shows these corrections go another 3% and take about four months to recover to prior levels, on average.

But there’s one big caveat. This is only if it does not fall into bear market territory, down 20% from a high. If the losses stretch to 20%, then there’s more pain ahead and a longer recovery time.

Here are the numbers, according to CNBC and Goldman Sachs analysis:

  • There have been 26 market corrections (not including Thursday) since World War II with an average decline of 13.7% over an average of four months.
  • Recoveries have taken four months on average.
  • The most recent corrections occurred from September 2018 to December 2018. The S&P 500 bounced into and out of correction throughout the autumn of 2018 before plunging into a bear market (a 20% decline from its all-time high) on Christmas Eve.

The Dow and the S&P 500 fell 2.25% and 2.3% on Thursday, respectively, and were each on track to close in correction territory based on their recent record close. The S&P 500 and Dow are each down more than 9% since Monday and more than 10% each since their respective all-time intraday and closing highs hit earlier in February.

If the S&P 500 closes below 3,047.53 on Thursday, Friday, or Monday, it will be the fastest 10% decline from an all-time high in the index’s history, according to Bespoke Investment Group.

  • There have been 12 bear markets since World War II with an average decline of 32.5% as measured on a close-to-close basis.
  • The most recent was October 2007 to March 2009, when the market dropped 57% and then took more than four years to recover. The S&P 500 closed in a bear market in December 2018 using intraday data.
  • Bear markets have lasted 14.5 months on average and have taken two years to recover on average.

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed reporting.

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