If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? That age old philosophical question is no easier to answer than the existential riddle of 2012 that if the stock market rises in grim economic times, and few are celebrating, is it a bull market? The U.S. stock market continued its ascent - with the S&P 500 [ .SPX 1904.01 +17.25 (+0.91%) ] up 14 percent for the year - capping a four-year run that is almost exactly on par with the average for the 10 major bull markets over the past century.
This may be the first bull run without the bulls, in large part because the United States is also four years into the second weakest economic recovery from any recession in a century. With stock trading volumes down 17 percent in 2012, with retail investors pulling more money out of stock funds, and with layoffs still thinning the ranks in the financial industry, the general public was feeling way too worried to be making bullish noises.
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