Origins of the terms bull and bear markets

The terms bull and bear are centuries old and there are multiple theories regarding their origins. Some say that they were derived from the way each animal attacks its opponent. A bull would thrust its horns up in the air, while a bear swipes down with its claws. Some say that the term bull is used because the New York stock exchange is built on land that was used by the Dutch in the 17th century to auction cattle. Others say that it is because rising markets were fueled by fast talking brokers with exaggerated claims about stocks, i.e. they were spouting their line of bull.

Definition of a bull market

How long can we expect a precious metals bull market to run? Let’s start with the definition of a bull market. Interestingly there is no consensus regarding a precise definition of a bull market. It is not as clear-cut as you might imagine. A bull market is commonly defined as a 20% rise from the most recent lowest price. The problem with this is that a big chunk of the move would have already occurred at that point. Others say that a bull market is defined by a tendency for prices to rise. Unfortunately, this definition is rather vague and subjective.

The time scale is a crucial factor to consider because both bull and bear markets can exist simultaneously but over different time scales. Time spans can be classified as secular, primary, and secondary. There is no fixed definition for these but broadly it said that a secular bull market is in the order of decades, primary bull markets are in the order of years, and secondary bull markets last weeks or months.

Gold bull and bear markets in history

Gold price USD on monthly scale 1999-2021

The above chart shows that gold entered a secular bull market in 1999, which ran until 2012. That was followed by a primary bear market. The date of end of that primary bear market is arguable. Some may use 2016 because that was when the gold price hit a major low. The gold price subsequently moved sideways before breaking out upwards, leading some to suggest mid 2018 as the end of the primary bear market in gold. Note that within the primary bear market, there were multiple secondary bull markets.

Secular gold bull and bear markets in history

Lets look at secular gold bull and bear markets further back in time. The first thing to note in the above chart is that we only have data available from 1971. This is in contrast to analysis regarding bull markets in the general stock indices where there is over a century worth of data. The first major bull market in gold ran from 1971 to 1980. The question mark in the chart reflects the fact that we don’t know when the bull market really started because before 1971 the price of gold was fixed by the government. That secular bull market consisted of two stages separated by a primary bear market (1974-1976). The secular bear market that followed (1980-1999) was very long and grinding, leading many to lose interest in investing in gold. That was followed by what could be considered the first leg of another secular bull market. Having endured a long primary bear market, the gold price action since 2018 suggests that the second leg of the secular bull market is underway.


Fundamental and the technical analysis all point to gold being in a next secular bull market that either started in 2016 or 2018. Overall there is insufficient price history to make any accurate assessments but we can make some rough estimates regarding the length of gold bull markets. Based on the history, secular bull markets in gold run for at least 10 years. Therefore, if we are being conservative, the gold bull market has at least five more years to run, if not longer. That suggests that for those that are new to this sector in 2021, you are by no means late.