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Current bull market isn’t getting respect

Unless you know they’re taking place, amazing feats of endurance and longevity are invisible in their early stages.

Few people paid much attention when a rookie named Lou Gehrig entered a New York Yankees game against the Washington Senators on June 1, 1925, and why would they? He was a pinch-hitter, and he didn’t get on base. But he played the next day, and the next, and kept going for 2,130 consecutive games until nearly everybody noticed. After Gehrig’s 2,000th game in 1938, The New York Times celebrated his achievement as “a record which probably never will be surpassed.”

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Records are made to be broken, of course. Cal Ripken Jr. shattered that one with an extraordinary record of 2,632 consecutive games that started under everybody’s radar on May 30, 1982.

Why bring up these stretches of workaday achievement now? It’s not just that American baseball, mired in another dreary steroid scandal this summer, could dearly use another quiet hero.

For people who track the ups and downs of the financial markets, it may be time to take notice that another epic streak is well under way: The stock market rose at the opening bell of 2012, and it has never dropped below that level.

As streaks often do, this one started quietly enough. It began more than 19 months ago, on Jan. 3, 2012, the first trading day of the year. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index galloped out of the gate, immediately putting it into positive territory. In 2012, the stock market never fell below 1,258.86, its opening level for the year.

That seemed unusual enough when Paul Hickey, cofounder of Bespoke Investment Group, alerted me about it at the end of last year, during what seemed to be a rocky period for the market. What’s remarkable is that despite uneven and often lackluster economic reports, and amid continuing worries on Wall Street about the Federal Reserve’s plans to taper its loose monetary policy, the stock market’s long upward streak continues.

The current streak has also received little fanfare. Neither, really, has the entire bull market in stocks.

“In some ways, it’s the most detested bull market of all time,” said Michael Hartnett, chief global equity strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “A big part of that comes from what preceded this market: the bursting of two large equity bubbles within a 10-year period, and the terrible trauma that caused.”

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