What Are The Origins Of The Terms 'Bull' And 'Bear'?

Right now there’s much discussion about whether gold is headed for a bear market after its decade-long bull run. Time will tell, but the current debate may make you wonder how ‘bull’ and ‘bear’ entered the financial lexicon?

A bull is a boisterous, charging animal that throws its victim up in the air. A bear is slower, hibernates for long periods and is more likely to throw its quarry to the ground. Investopedia says these “actions are metaphors for the movement of a market. If the trend is up, it’s a bull market. If the trend is down, it’s a bear market.”

But the murky origins of the use of these terms suggest the explanation is probably not so straight forward. Flash Boys Michael Lewis Best Price: $1.17 Buy New $5.79 (as of 11:15 EST - Details)

One of the most frequently cited stories relates to bear skin jobbers in early 18thcentury London. In anticipation of falling prices, these middle men (or ‘bears’) sold their wares before the animals had even been caught – an early form of short selling. The contemporary proverb “don’t sell the bear skin before you’ve killed the bear”highlighted the risks they ran.

This type of selling was also used by people involved in the South Sea Bubble, the share speculation mania that ruined many British investors in 1720. According to the Merriam Webster New Book of Word Histories, the scandal brought the term bear into widespread use.

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