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  • Writer's pictureMark Fonville, CFP®

Understanding Stock Market Corrections and Crashes (2023)

Updated: Apr 15

Understanding stock market corrections and crashes

Investing involves risk.

Any investor that has invested in stock markets longer than five years knows that because they’ve experienced the ups, downs, and all the volatility in between.


But, why would you want to endure all of that uncertainty in the first place?

The reason is that we expect markets to go up over time, and historically that’s been the case.

You can see the long-term trend in this graph that shows the growth of the U.S. stock market (S&P500) since the Great Depression.

Stock since the great depression since 1928 through november 22, 2023.

Even so, history has delivered countless reasons to avoid investing in the stock market and there is no guarantee that markets will continue to go up in the future.

From the crash of 1929 to World War II to stagflation of the 1970s to the 2008 financial crisis, staying invested for the long-term through many recessions is no easy task.

In spite of all of the stock market crashes and corrections, $1.00 invested in the Standard and Poor's Composite index at the beginning of 1926 would have grown to approximately $13,000 by September of 2023, assuming you reinvested all dividends (you can not invest directly in an index and this excludes fees and taxes).

Growth of $1 dollar in the S & P 500 since 1926 to November 2023

It’s incredible to witness this upward trend.

But, markets do fluctuate along the way. Even for experienced investors, the turbulence can be a little scary because you can’t know how far the market may fall or how long it will be before it may rebound.

We are currently in a period where there is a lot of stock and bond market volatility and economic unknowns, both in the United States and broad.

As a result, you might be asking yourself,

  • Is the market crashing now?

  • What’s the difference between crashes and corrections?

  • How often do stock markets crash or correct?

Some historical perspectives may be constructive as you search for answers.

In this article, we’ll look at how stock market declines, crashes, and economic busts have played out in the past.

History never repeats itself but it certainly does rhyme and you may find comfort in understanding historical market trends to have a better benchmark for future comparisons.

With that, here's everything you've ever wanted to know about stock market corrections and crashes.

Market Corrections Versus Crashes

Before we start, there’s something you should know: any time the market declines, media and news outlets jump on the opportunity for a click-worthy story.

Now, this “story” doesn’t always make it easier to understand exactly what is happening. Because people use these phrases so often (and sometimes interchangeably), let’s make sure we know the difference between a market crash and a market correction.

  • Correction—There isn’t a standardized definition, but the commonly accepted definition of a correction is a drop of more than 10% but less than 20%.

  • Crash—A decline of 20% or more.

People often refer to a decline of less than 10% as a dip or pullback, and the difference comes down to a matter of degree.

So when you’re wondering what’s happening to the market, just be sure to ask,

How deep is the decline?

Your answer will help point you in the right direction!

How Often Does The Stock Market Crash?

Now that we’ve clarified what these phrases mean, let's dig into the nitty-gritty. A market crash is the most detrimental to investment portfolios and potentially, your lifestyle, so let's start there.

Contrary to some people's beliefs, market crashes do not follow predictable patterns. So don’t take this commentary to mean we are trying to tell you that they do. We are simply providing you with historical data to show how frequently (or infrequently) crashes tend to occur.

Since 1950, the S&P 500 index has declined by 20% or more on 12 different occasions. The average stock market price decline is -33.38% and the average length of a market crash is 342 days.

Stock market crashes since 1950
Source: Hartford Funds

However, and this part is critical, the bull markets that follow these crashes tend to be strong and last much longer.

The chart below illustrates this phenomenon quite well.

Compare the size of the orange shaded regions, which show bear markets, and the size of the gray shaded areas, which represent market recoveries. The market recoveries dwarf the crashes both in terms of severity and duration.

List of stock market crashes and recoveries since 1956

How Long Does A Stock Market Crash Last?

A true market crash, as opposed to a dip or correction, can be brutal.

The chart below shows bear market declines since World War II. Each blue line represents a 20% or worse drop in the market since that time and their subsequent recovery in days.

The average bear market cuts stock prices by 36% from peak to trough and these declines typically last over a year and a half.

And stock market recoveries are even longer, taking almost two and half years on average.

To put this in perspective, the stock market recovery from March of 2020 took only 6 months.

Bear markets and recoveries since World War II
S&P 500 peak to trough declines of 20% or more since World War II

How Long Does A Stock Market Correction Last?

Corrections are softer than crashes, which is why they have a more gentle name. But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel them.

There have been 24 stock market corrections since World War II and the average correction sees the market drop by 14.3%, which can be painful.

Not only are corrections more minor than crashes, but they are also more gradual, too. It typically takes five months to reach the “bottom” of a correction.

Stock market correction history chart since World War II with 10% to 20% declines.
S&P 500 peak to trough declines of 10% to 20% or more since World War II

However, once the market starts to turn, it can recover quickly. The average recovery time for a correction is just four months!

That's why investors with truly diversified portfolios may consider staying investing for the long-term.

If you get out, you may miss the subsequent recovery which can be devastating to your portfolio.

How Often Do Stock Market Corrections Occur?

Corrections occur more frequently than crashes.

On average, the market declined 10% or more every 1.2 years since 1980, so you could even say corrections are common.

Again, it’s not clockwork, but that should help you put things in context when the market drops.

When was the last stock market correction?

You may be surprised to know that we had four stock market corrections in 2022 and one stock market correction in 2023 as illustrated in the chart below.

While we did not experience a stock market correction in 2021, we experienced five stock market corrections in 2020 alone!

Number of stock market pullbacks by calendar year of 10% or more since 1980 to 2023..
Stock market pullbacks of 10% or more

Smaller stock market corrections happen even more frequently.

Just about every year since 1980, the market has experienced a temporary decline of 5% or more.

On average, a 5% decline in stock market prices has occurred 4.5 times a year over the same period.

Stock market pullbacks by calendar year of 5% or more since 1980 through 2023
Stock market pullbacks of 5% or more

What Should I Do About Stock Market Crashes and Corrections?

First, you need to understand that they will happen.

If you want to know how to identify a stock market correction in advance, don't spend too much time.

Why? They are unpredictable. And, they are driven by a different set of events every time.

Secondly, you should make sure that your investment portfolio is designed to withstand only as much risk as you are willing to endure. Once you de-risk your portfolio, weathering a stock market crash or correction may be a bit more palatable. But, it still won’t be easy.

Here's a bit more on how to de-risk your investment portfolio in preparation for stock market volatility:

Thirdly, there are steps you can take once a recession or stock market crash occurs.

Hopefully, the charts above help you put stock market crashes and corrections in the right context.

Your investment plan should be tied to your goals and balanced to allow you to remain focused on goal achievement.

That means that you may want to consider if your asset allocation (the right mix of stocks, bonds, and cash) is aggressive enough to provide the long-term return you need but conservative enough so you don’t panic and change course when the market dips, corrects, or crashes.

Understanding the nature of market declines—how frequently they occur, their severity, and how the market rebounds after—can help you avoid common investment blunders.

Ups and Downs Are Part of The Deal

As you know, markets aren’t stable or steady over the short term, but they tend to perform consistently well over the long term (again, there is no guarantee).

That’s why it’s so critical to adhere to an investment strategy with a long-term focus and structured guidelines for implementation.

Unfortunately, many investors don’t have the right investment strategy in the first place.

That’s a major problem because when stock market crashes and corrections do occur, they can result in substantial losses and anxiety if you aren't careful.

So before you alter your strategy to match the markets, remember, there’s no beating, timing, or guessing the markets. What you need to have is a disciplined, concerted strategy that gives you the best chance of weathering stock market corrections and crashes.

That's where hiring an expert may be helpful.

Our team specializes in helping individuals age fifty plus with over $1 million in savings and investments craft personalized investment portfolios that support the life they want to live in a sustainable, tax-friendly, and risk-managed way.

If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you better manage risk in your portfolio, schedule a free retirement assessment.

We advise clients in person and virtually via Zoom across the United States.

Mark Fonville financial advisor and fee-only financial planning in Richmond and Williamsburg, VA

About Mark Fonville, CFP®

Mark is a personal financial advisor and the President of Covenant Wealth Advisors. He manages investment portfolios and provides retirement income planning for individuals age 50 plus who have over $1 million in investments.

He has been featured in the New York Times, Barron's, Forbes, and Kiplinger Magazine.



Understanding Stock Market Corrections and Crashes Slides and Disclosure (updated for 2023
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Covenant Wealth Advisors is a registered investment advisor with offices in Richmond and Williamsburg, VA. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital.

The views and opinions expressed in this content are as of the date of the posting, are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This content contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.

Please note that nothing in this content should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax, or legal advice. If you would like accounting, tax, or legal advice, you should consult with your own accountants or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Covenant Wealth Advisors unless a client service agreement is in place.


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