An abysmal stock market
Barry Ritzholz at The Big Picture has this chart comparing the current bear market in stocks to previous plunges, 1929 to 2009.
Mike Mandel at Business Week cuts the numbers a different way, painting an even gloomier picture. He notes that the S&P 500 is down 50% adjusted for inflation (February 17, 1999 to February 17, 2009). He calculates that the stock market was down roughly 50%, adjusted for inflation, in the worst ten years of the Great Depression (September 1929 to September 1939).
One last set of numbers: The last quarter century–until recently–was considered the era of private enterprise innovation and poor government fiscal management. From 1983 to 2008, the annual total return on stocks was 9.8% a year. Yet, according to Peter Bernstein, the dean of finance economists, long Treasuries produced an 11% average annual return over the same time period. Go figure.