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An aging, maligned bull market gets some birthday love

By STAN CHOE AP Business Writer

NEW YORK -- It took a while, but investors are beginning to believe this bull can fly.

One of the greatest runs for the stock market in history is marking its eighth anniversary, and this time investors are joining the party. They're putting more dollars into mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that invest in U.S. stocks, a turnaround from earlier years, even though critics see a long list of reasons for caution.

It was on March 9, 2009 that stocks finally hit bottom in the financial crisis, after the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 55 percent in 17 months and gutted retirement and other investment accounts. The next day, the S&P 500 perked up by 6.4 percent, and it's been racing higher ever since thanks to extraordinary stimulus from the Federal Reserve and a recovery in corporate profits, with only a few interruptions in between.

A $10,000 investment in the largest U.S. stock mutual fund has turned into nearly $42,000 since the bottom, and this bull market for stocks has already outlasted all but one other since World War II. Only the 1990-2000 run, which ran through the top of the dot-come bubble, lasted longer.

The long vault higher for stocks has helped buy-and-hold investors not only recover all their losses from the Great Recession but also to add to them.

The S&P 500 set a record earlier this month, which means anyone with the fortitude to hold on through worries about a double-dip recession, the 2011 European debt crisis and a series of other shocks is now sitting on more than ever before. Unfortunately, not everyone held onto their stocks.

Through the years, many investors remained leery of the market, with the memory of the financial crisis still too painful. They stuck instead to bonds and other safer confines. In 2015, for example, investors pulled $107 billion more out of U.S. stock mutual funds and ETFs than they put in, according to the Investment Company Institute.

In the first 10 months of last year, the trend continued, and investors yanked a net $109 billion out of U.S. stock funds.

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