Stock Market Today: Stocks Fall on Anniversary of Bear Market Bottom

Rising short-term COVID concerns, including lockdowns in Europe and a trial-vaccine stumble, pulled down stocks across the board Tuesday.

A person celebrating a birthday alone with a lone candle in a partly eaten donut.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Stocks marked the one-year anniversary of the COVID bear market's lowest point much the same way they acted on March 23, 2020 – they sold off.

Fortunately, today's declines were milder, and they came amid what's still a vastly more optimistic outlook for stocks, the economy and the public health.

Tuesday's selling, however, was sparked by short-term setbacks on the COVID front: renewed and extended coronavirus lockdowns in Europe, rising domestic caseloads in the U.S., and another setback for AstraZeneca's (AZN, -3.5%) experimental vaccine, after U.S. health officials said promising trial results might have relied on "outdated information." Oil prices were hit particularly hard: U.S. crude futures declined 6.2% to $57.76 per barrel, triggering a 1.5% decline in the energy sector (XLE).

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But the weakness was widespread. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sagged 0.9% to 32,423, the S&P 500 lost 0.8% to 3,910, and the Nasdaq Composite retreated by 1.1% to 13,227. The small-cap Russell 2000 was a little truer to last year's escalated selling, plunging 3.6% to 2,185.

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Other action in the stock market today:

  • Gold futures closed 0.8% lower to $1,725.10 per ounce.
  • Bitcoin prices declined another 1.5% to $55,011. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)

stock chart for 032321

(Image credit: YCharts)

The Bull Market: Year Two

The good news, then? Today is also the one-year anniversary of the current bull market, and historically, they do well in their second year.

"Since World War II, there have been six other bear-market declines of at least 30%, and in every single case the S&P 500 was up firmly the first year of a new bull market – with an average return of more than 40%," says Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist for LPL Financial. "The good news is the gains continued in year two, as stocks were also up the second year of a new bull market every single time – up a solid 16.9% on average. Only once (after the 1987 crash) did stocks gain more during year two than year one."

The S&P 500 is up much more than that average, with 75% gains through Tuesday's close. But if you look at the best stocks of the past year – with dozens returning between 300% and 1,000% – you'll see the story of where America has been, and where it's likely going.

Many stocks supporting work-from-home and e-commerce trends are still up massively from their March lows despite cooling off of late … but also, many "recovery" stocks have made the list thanks to red-hot recent runs as investors try to get ahead of the American reopening.

Read on as we take a quick look back at the past year in the markets, including a list of the new bull market's most fruitful stocks.

Kyle Woodley
Senior Investing Editor, Kiplinger.com

Kyle is senior investing editor for Kiplinger.com. As a writer and columnist, he also specializes in exchange-traded funds. He joined Kiplinger in September 2017 after spending six years at InvestorPlace.com, where he managed the editorial staff. His work has appeared in several outlets, including U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money, he has appeared as a guest on Fox Business Network and Money Radio, and he has been quoted in MarketWatch, Vice and Univision, among other outlets. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University, where he earned a BA in journalism.