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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A year ago the U.S. stock market minted new all-time highs, but you could excuse investors for not celebrating the anniversary.
The benchmark S&P 500 has failed to close higher since ending at 2,130.82 on May 21, 2015, and now trades some 4 percent below that peak. It also has yet to top its intraday record high of 2,134.72 hit on May 20, 2015.
A raft of concerns has pressured equities over the past year, including worries about sluggish global growth, the volatility of oil prices and weak U.S. corporate earnings. Just this week, heightened expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in the near-term roiled the stock market.
History shows that similar gaps between market peaks tends to bode poorly for the stock market's direction.
"The longer the S&P 500 goes without registering a new high, the more likely that it is a bear market," Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut said in a May 16 note to clients.
Over the past 50 years, the S&P has gone 250 trading days, or about one calendar year, without registering a new high 10 previous times, O'Rourke said. Eight times that failure coincided with market declines of about 20 percent or more, he said.
But there are silver linings for bulls too: The average S&P performance over those eight periods was a decline of more than 24 percent, according to O'Rourke, far steeper than this recent period's 4.3 percent decline.
The remaining two periods were eventually followed by "notable breakouts," he said, including a 35 percent gain in the mid-1990s.
The S&P 500 tallied 10 all-time closing highs in 2015, 53 in 2014 and 45 in 2013, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices in New York.
Even without a market-wide high in the past year, some stocks have done very well. The best S&P 500 performers over the past year through Thursday include: Nvidia (NVDA.O), up 108.5 percent, Amazon.com (AMZN.O), up 61.8 percent, and Tyson Foods (TSN.N), up 49.5 percent.
Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Linda Stern and Meredith Mazzilli