With inflation at the highest rate in 40 years, ongoing conflict in Ukraine and continuing lockdowns in China perpetually threatening to disrupt supply chains, it may surprise you to learn that the number of investors with “bullish” sentiment is at a nine-week high. Whether it’s news that’s so bad it’s good (contrarian signal) or we’ve simply passed peak fear, investors are broadly expecting the U.S. economy to begin turning the corner. As we do, the global economy will recover, and stock returns will likely accelerate. With that in mind, here’s a fun question to contemplate: How long will it be until we get to Dow 40,000, S&P 5,000 and the Nasdaq 20,000?
Right now, two of those three benchmarks seem really far off. But they might be closer than you think.
Remember when Dow 20,000 was such a huge milestone? That was five years ago. Now it’s at 32,000—despite the fact that the Dow has been the slowest-rising of the three major stock market indexes, at least until recently. Granted, a 33% bump in three years is unlikely to be replicated, especially not while the coronavirus continues to swirl and inflation hits a 40-year high. But a 25% jump in three years? Given the massive economic recovery that could take place in that time, it not only doesn’t seem far-fetched; it seems likely.
Ditto the S&P 500 getting to 5,000.
Heck, the large-cap index touched as high as 4,700 to end 2021. And despite the rocky year, it’s only 21% off those highs. All it would take to push the S&P over 5,000 is a 34% return, which may seem like a lot given current market sentiment, but is not outside of the realm of possibility in the next few years.
As for Nasdaq 20,000, that would take a heftier 92% advance. But remember, the Nasdaq – heavy on the tech stocks that led the 2020 rally (though they’ve encountered turbulence over the last year or so) and leaders of this decade-plus bull market – moves much faster than the benchmark S&P 500 and the stodgier, dividend dinosaur-heavy Dow. It was up 21% in 2021 despite all the ups and downs, and didn’t even cross the 10,000 barrier until June 2020. It crossed the 15,000-point barrier for the first time last August and even poked its head above 16,000 briefly in November before the recent selloff in growth stocks. A 92% advance from here could take a couple years. But I wouldn’t rule it out entirely in 2024 or 2025.
Of course, here’s the part where I remind you that past returns are not indicative of future performance. Even as we look toward brighter, post-Covid days, there are no guarantees that the stock market will automatically keep up its remarkable ascension. The Nasdaq in particular has already hit a snag in the last few months, though it was hitting new all-time highs regularly prior to that.
But chances are, stock prices will be higher a year from now than they are today. Perhaps significantly higher.
I doubt the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq will hit any of the aforementioned benchmarks this calendar year. But getting there by next year seems possible.
Ultimately, however, big shiny numbers don’t really matter anyway when it comes to indexes. They’re convenient measuring sticks, and fun talking points. And maybe that latter characteristic is what matters most right now.
We could all use a little more fun these days. And there’s nothing more fun in today’s world than looking at what will hopefully be a much brighter future.
When do you think the major indexes will hit these new all-time highs?
*This post has been updated from an original version, published in 2020.