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Bear Tack: Definition and Strategies for surviving a Bear Market

Last updated 06/05/2024 by

Daniel Dikio

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Bear markets, characterized by a prolonged decline in stock prices, can be daunting for even the most seasoned investors. However, with the right strategies—often referred to as “bear tack”—investors can navigate these challenging periods effectively.

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Understanding bear markets

A bear market is defined as a period during which securities prices fall by 20% or more from recent highs over a sustained period. This decline is typically accompanied by widespread pessimism and negative investor sentiment. Bear markets can affect any asset class but are most commonly associated with the stock market. The term “bear market” contrasts with a “bull market,” where prices are rising or expected to rise.

Causes of bear markets

Several factors can trigger a bear market, including economic, financial, and geopolitical events. Understanding these causes can help investors recognize early warning signs and prepare accordingly.

Economic recessions

Economic recessions are a significant cause of bear markets. When an economy experiences a prolonged period of negative growth, businesses see lower profits, unemployment rises, and consumer spending decreases. These factors lead to declining stock prices as companies struggle to maintain earnings.
Historical example: The Great Recession of 2007-2009 was triggered by the housing market collapse and subsequent financial crisis, leading to a severe global economic downturn.

Geopolitical events

Geopolitical instability, such as wars, political conflicts, and international tensions, can create uncertainty and reduce investor confidence. This uncertainty often leads to a sell-off in the stock market.
Historical example: The oil crisis of the 1970s, caused by geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, led to a significant bear market and economic recession.

Financial crises

Financial crises, such as banking failures and credit crunches, can lead to severe market downturns. When financial institutions face insolvency or significant losses, the ripple effects can destabilize the entire financial system.
Historical example: The collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 triggered a global financial crisis, resulting in a bear market that affected markets worldwide.

Market bubbles and corrections

Market bubbles occur when asset prices rise to unsustainable levels due to speculation and investor exuberance. When the bubble bursts, prices can plummet, leading to a bear market.
Historical example: The dot-com bubble of the late 1990s saw technology stock prices soar to irrational levels, followed by a sharp decline from 2000 to 2002.

Characteristics of bear markets

Bear markets exhibit several common characteristics:
  • Prolonged decline: Bear markets are marked by sustained declines, often lasting months or even years.
  • Increased volatility: Market volatility tends to rise as investors react to negative news and uncertainty.
  • Negative sentiment: Pessimism and fear dominate investor behavior, leading to widespread selling.
  • Economic slowdown: Bear markets often coincide with economic downturns, characterized by reduced corporate earnings and rising unemployment.

The concept of bear tack

The term “bear tack” refers to the strategic adjustments and approaches investors use to manage and mitigate losses during bear markets. Much like the sailing term “tacking,” which involves changing direction to navigate against the wind, bear tack involves altering investment strategies to deal with adverse market conditions.

Historical background

The concept of bear tack has evolved through the collective experience of investors who have navigated numerous market cycles. As financial markets have grown more complex, the strategies for managing bear markets have become more sophisticated. Historically, successful investors have studied past downturns to develop approaches that minimize losses and position their portfolios for future growth.

Strategies for navigating bear markets

Navigating bear markets requires a combination of strategic planning, disciplined execution, and a keen understanding of market dynamics. Here are several effective strategies to help investors manage their portfolios during downturns:


  • Asset allocation: Diversify investments across different asset classes such as stocks, bonds, real estate, and commodities. A balanced portfolio reduces the impact of poor performance in any single asset class.
  • Sector diversification: Invest in various sectors to avoid being overly exposed to one industry. For instance, while tech stocks might suffer, consumer staples and utilities often remain stable during economic downturns.
  • Geographic diversification: Include international investments to spread risk across global markets. Economic conditions can vary significantly between countries, and global diversification can protect against domestic downturns.

Defensive investments

  • Bonds: Bonds, especially government and high-quality corporate bonds, are typically safer than stocks and provide regular interest payments. They can act as a cushion against stock market volatility.
  • Gold and precious metals: Gold is often seen as a safe-haven asset. It tends to hold value during economic turmoil, providing a hedge against inflation and market instability.
  • Defensive stocks: Invest in companies that produce essential goods and services, such as utilities, healthcare, and consumer staples. These sectors generally have stable demand regardless of economic conditions.

Hedging strategies

  • Options: Use options to hedge against potential losses. For example, buying put options can protect against declines in stock prices by giving you the right to sell at a predetermined price.
  • Futures: Futures contracts can lock in prices for commodities or other assets, helping manage risk associated with price fluctuations.
  • Inverse ETFs: These funds are designed to move inversely to the market. Investing in inverse ETFs can provide gains when markets decline, offsetting losses in other areas of your portfolio.

Dollar-cost averaging

Invest a fixed amount of money at regular intervals, regardless of market conditions. This strategy helps mitigate the impact of volatility by spreading out purchases over time. It ensures that you buy more shares when prices are low and fewer shares when prices are high, potentially reducing the average cost per share.

Maintaining liquidity

Keep a portion of your portfolio in cash or cash-equivalents. This liquidity allows you to meet short-term needs and take advantage of investment opportunities that arise during market downturns without having to sell assets at a loss.

Rebalancing the portfolio

Regularly review and adjust your portfolio to maintain your desired asset allocation. Rebalancing involves selling overperforming assets and buying underperforming ones, ensuring your portfolio remains aligned with your risk tolerance and investment goals.

Long-term investment focus

Bear markets can tempt investors to make short-term decisions driven by fear. Maintain a long-term perspective, focusing on your overall financial goals rather than short-term market fluctuations. Historically, markets have recovered from downturns, rewarding patient and disciplined investors.

Psychological aspects of bear markets

The psychological impact of bear markets can be profound, often leading to emotional decision-making that can harm long-term financial health. Understanding and managing these psychological aspects is crucial for maintaining a sound investment strategy during market downturns.

Investor psychology

  • Fear and panic: Bear markets often induce fear and panic among investors, leading to irrational decisions like panic selling. This behavior can lock in losses and prevent investors from benefiting from potential market recoveries.
  • Loss aversion: Psychological studies show that the pain of losing money is more intense than the pleasure of gaining an equivalent amount. This can lead to overly conservative decisions or reluctance to sell losing investments, hoping they will rebound.

Staying calm and rational

  • Avoiding panic selling: Selling investments in a panic can turn paper losses into real losses. Stick to your investment plan and avoid making hasty decisions based on short-term market movements.
  • Staying informed: Educate yourself about market conditions, but avoid information overload, which can exacerbate anxiety. Focus on credible sources and avoid sensationalist media that can amplify fear.
  • Seeking professional advice: Financial advisors can provide objective guidance and help you stay disciplined. They can offer strategies tailored to your individual financial situation and risk tolerance.

Long-term perspective

  • Historical context: Remind yourself that bear markets are a natural part of the economic cycle. Historically, markets have always recovered and gone on to reach new highs. This long-term perspective can help you stay focused on your financial goals.
  • Goal-oriented investing: Keep your investment goals in mind. Whether saving for retirement, a child’s education, or another long-term objective, focusing on these goals can help you stay committed to your investment strategy.

Emotional resilience

  • Mindfulness and stress management: Practice mindfulness and stress management techniques to maintain emotional balance. Activities such as meditation, exercise, and hobbies can reduce stress and improve decision-making.
  • Support systems: Engage with financial advisors, investment communities, or support groups to share experiences and strategies. Talking to others who are going through similar situations can provide comfort and practical advice.

Cognitive biases

  • Recency bias: This bias leads investors to give undue weight to recent events when making decisions. Remember that market downturns are temporary, and recent declines do not predict future performance.
  • Herd mentality: Avoid following the crowd during market sell-offs. Just because others are selling doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for your financial situation.

Case studies

Examining historical bear markets and successful strategies for navigating them can provide valuable insights for investors. Here are a few notable examples:

The great depression (1929-1939)

  • Causes: The stock market crash of 1929, exacerbated by banking failures, reduced consumer spending, and severe economic policies, led to the Great Depression.
  • Impact: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 90% from its peak. Unemployment soared, and the global economy suffered a significant contraction.
  • Recovery: The recovery began with New Deal policies introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which included financial reforms, infrastructure projects, and social programs. World War II also spurred economic growth and ultimately ended the Great Depression.
  • Key takeaways: Diversification, defensive investments, and a long-term perspective were crucial. Investors who held onto high-quality stocks and bonds eventually saw recovery and growth.

The dot-com bubble (2000-2002)

  • Causes: Excessive speculation in internet-based companies led to inflated stock prices. Many of these companies had little to no earnings, resulting in a market bubble.
  • Impact: The NASDAQ Composite Index fell nearly 78% from its peak. Many tech companies went bankrupt, and investor confidence was severely shaken.
  • Recovery: The market began to recover as overvalued tech stocks were weeded out, and stronger companies emerged. The broader market eventually rebounded, with new regulations and improved corporate governance.
  • Key takeaways: Avoid speculative investments and focus on companies with solid fundamentals. Diversification and regular portfolio reviews can help mitigate risks.

The global financial crisis (2007-2009)

  • Causes: The crisis was triggered by the collapse of the housing bubble, subprime mortgage defaults, and the failure of major financial institutions.
  • Impact: The S&P 500 Index dropped approximately 57% from its peak. The crisis led to a severe global recession, high unemployment, and widespread economic hardship.
  • Recovery: Recovery was driven by government bailouts, monetary stimulus, and regulatory reforms. The stock market began to rebound in 2009, with significant growth in the following years.
  • Key takeaways: Maintaining liquidity, hedging against downturns, and focusing on high-quality, defensive investments helped investors navigate the crisis. Staying informed and adapting to changing market conditions were essential.

Successful bear tack strategies

  • Warren Buffett: Buffett’s value investing approach emphasizes buying high-quality companies at attractive prices. During bear markets, he focuses on strong fundamentals and long-term potential, avoiding panic selling.
  • Ray Dalio: Dalio’s risk parity strategy involves diversifying across asset classes to balance risk and reduce volatility. His approach helped mitigate losses during market downturns.
  • PIMCO: During the 2008 financial crisis, PIMCO’s focus on high-quality bonds and conservative investment strategies allowed it to outperform peers and maintain stability.

Common mistakes to avoid

Investors often make avoidable mistakes during bear markets, driven by fear, panic, and lack of preparation. Here are some common pitfalls and how to avoid them:

Panic selling

  • Mistake: Selling investments in a panic during market downturns can lock in losses and prevent investors from benefiting from eventual recoveries.
  • Solution: Stay calm and adhere to your investment strategy. Focus on the long-term potential of your investments and avoid making decisions based on short-term market movements.


  • Mistake: Using excessive leverage to amplify returns can lead to significant losses during bear markets, as borrowed funds need to be repaid even if investments decline in value.
  • Solution: Use leverage cautiously and ensure it fits within your risk tolerance. Maintain a balanced portfolio and avoid taking on debt that you cannot comfortably manage.

Neglecting diversification

  • Mistake: Failing to diversify your portfolio can increase vulnerability to market downturns. Concentrating investments in one asset class, sector, or geography can lead to significant losses.
  • Solution: Diversify your investments across various asset classes, sectors, and geographies. A well-diversified portfolio can reduce risk and provide more stability during volatile periods.

Ignoring asset allocation

  • Mistake: Neglecting to rebalance your portfolio can lead to an asset allocation that no longer aligns with your risk tolerance and investment goals.
  • Solution: Regularly review and adjust your portfolio to maintain your desired asset allocation. Rebalancing involves selling overperforming assets and buying underperforming ones to stay aligned with your strategy.

Chasing performance

  • Mistake: Buying into assets or sectors that have recently performed well can lead to buying high and selling low, especially if these investments are overvalued.
  • Solution: Focus on fundamentals rather than past performance. Conduct thorough research and ensure investments align with your long-term strategy and risk profile.

Emotional decision-making

  • Mistake: Making investment decisions based on emotions, such as fear or greed, can lead to irrational actions that harm your portfolio.
  • Solution: Develop a clear investment plan and stick to it. Use data and analysis to inform your decisions, and seek advice from financial professionals if needed.

Lack of preparation

  • Mistake: Entering a bear market without a plan can lead to reactive and suboptimal decisions.
  • Solution: Prepare for bear markets by developing a comprehensive investment strategy that includes diversification, defensive investments, and liquidity management. Regularly review and update your plan to ensure it remains relevant.


What is a bear market?

A bear market is a prolonged period during which securities prices fall by 20% or more from recent highs, typically accompanied by widespread pessimism and negative investor sentiment. It can affect any asset class but is most commonly associated with the stock market.

What causes bear markets?

Bear markets can be triggered by various factors, including economic recessions, geopolitical events, financial crises, and the bursting of market bubbles. These factors lead to declining investor confidence and widespread selling.

How long do bear markets typically last?

The duration of bear markets varies, but they generally last for several months to a few years. The recovery period also depends on the underlying causes and the measures taken to address the downturn.

What strategies can help navigate a bear market?

Effective strategies for navigating bear markets include diversification, defensive investments, hedging, dollar-cost averaging, maintaining liquidity, and rebalancing your portfolio. Staying focused on long-term investment goals is also crucial.

What are defensive investments?

Defensive investments are assets that tend to perform well or maintain value during economic downturns. Examples include bonds, gold, and stocks in essential industries such as utilities, healthcare, and consumer staples.

How can I manage my emotions during a bear market?

Managing emotions during a bear market involves staying calm, avoiding panic selling, maintaining a long-term perspective, and seeking professional advice. Engaging in stress management techniques and focusing on your financial goals can also help.

What are some common mistakes to avoid during bear markets?

Common mistakes to avoid include panic selling, over-leveraging, neglecting diversification, ignoring asset allocation, chasing performance, making emotional decisions, and lack of preparation. Staying disciplined and following a sound investment plan can mitigate these risks.

How do bear markets affect different asset classes?

Bear markets typically have a significant impact on equities, leading to sharp declines in stock prices. Bonds and defensive investments like gold tend to perform better, providing stability and diversification. Real estate and other assets may also be affected depending on the broader economic environment.

Can bear markets present investment opportunities?

Yes, bear markets can present opportunities to buy high-quality assets at lower prices. Investors who maintain liquidity and have a long-term perspective can take advantage of undervalued investments during market downturns.

What role does diversification play in bear market strategies?

Diversification plays a crucial role in reducing risk during bear markets. By spreading investments across different asset classes, sectors, and geographies, investors can mitigate the impact of declines in any single area and enhance portfolio stability.

Key takeaways

  • Bear markets are periods of significant decline in securities prices, typically defined by a drop of 20% or more from recent highs. They are caused by economic, geopolitical, and financial factors and are characterized by negative sentiment and increased volatility.
  • Navigating bear markets involves strategies such as diversification, defensive investments, hedging, dollar-cost averaging, maintaining liquidity, and regular portfolio rebalancing. These strategies help manage risk and position portfolios for recovery.
  • Managing emotions is crucial during bear markets. Avoiding panic selling, staying informed, seeking professional advice, and maintaining a long-term perspective can help investors make rational decisions and stay focused on their financial goals.
  • Investors should avoid panic selling, over-leveraging, neglecting diversification, ignoring asset allocation, chasing performance, making emotional decisions, and lacking preparation. Adhering to a disciplined investment plan is essential.
  • Case studies of past bear markets, such as the Great Depression, the dot-com bubble, and the Global Financial Crisis, provide valuable insights. Successful strategies from these periods highlight the importance of sound investment principles and long-term focus.
  • Bear markets can present opportunities to buy high-quality assets at lower prices. Investors with liquidity and a long-term perspective can capitalize on undervalued investments, positioning themselves for future growth.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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