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The S&P 500: A History of Triumphs and Tribulations – A Comprehensive Analysis for Equity Investors

Discover the S&P 500's fascinating history, investigate statistics, and compare its performance to other global indices.
DALL·E 2023 10 16 15.10.59 Photo of a sophisticated conference room with a large projector screen displaying a pie chart comparing the SP 500 to other global indices. A table i - The S&P 500: A History of Triumphs and Tribulations - A Comprehensive Analysis for Equity Investors -%sitename%
Sanjay Oberoi

Sanjay Oberoi

worked for numerous big names in the sector, including Fidelity Investment, Allianz Global Investor, Union Investment, and Kepler Cheuvreux.

The Origins of the S&P 500 Index

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, commonly known as the S&P 500, was introduced in 1957 by Standard & Poor’s, a financial services company renowned for its analytical prowess. This index, meticulously designed to measure the pulse of the American corporate sector, tracks the performance of 500 leading US companies spanning diverse sectors, from technology to health care and from finance to entertainment. Serving as a representative benchmark for the American stock market, it offers an insightful glimpse into the health of the US economy. As of September 2021, boasting a staggering market capitalization of over $32 trillion, it encapsulates approximately 80% of the investable US equity market, making it one of the world’s most watched stock indices.

Triumphs and Tribulations: Key Milestones

The 1970s: A Decade of Stagnation

The 1970s painted a bleak picture for the S&P 500, which trudged along sluggishly. During this decade, the index grew merely by 17%. It was a challenging era for the global economy. It was defined by soaring inflation rates, multiple oil crises that shook the energy-dependent world, and geopolitical tensions that played out in real-time. These macroeconomic and global factors combined damper the market’s performance, rendering it a forgettable decade for many investors.

The 1980s: The Bull Market Begins

In stark contrast to the previous decade, the 1980s heralded a rejuvenation phase for the S&P 500, with the index blossoming by an eye-watering 227% throughout the ten years. During this period, characterized by economic expansion, we witnessed groundbreaking tax reforms that spurred business investments. Furthermore, the onset of technological advancements, including the personal computer revolution, played a crucial role in redefining industries and boosting market performance, making it an era of prosperity.

The 1990s: The Dot-com Bubble

As the world stood at the brink of a digital age, the 1990s saw the S&P 500 soar to unprecedented heights, registering a colossal growth of 315%. This ascent was propelled by the dot-com bubble, a speculative period where internet-based companies received sky-high valuations. Yet, every bubble must burst, and when this one did around 2000, it led to a heart-wrenching market downturn, with the index shedding nearly half its value by 2002, reminding investors of the cyclical nature of markets.

The 2000s: The Great Recession

The new millennium brought a fresh set of challenges for the S&P 500. The catastrophic 2008 financial crisis, ignited by the subprime mortgage bubble, decimated nearly 57% of the index’s value. The world grappled with severe economic repercussions. However, with resilient policy interventions in the form of government stimulus packages and historically low-interest rates, the market embarked on a road to recovery starting in 2009.

2010-Present: A Decade of Growth

Riding on the tailwinds of the recovery initiated in 2009, the S&P 500 embarked on a remarkable bull run since 2010. The index swelled by over 400% from March 2009 to September 2021. Several factors underpinned this growth, including the continued economic recovery after the Great Recession, persistently low-interest rates, and the meteoric rise of technology giants that reshaped traditional business paradigms.

Comparing the S&P 500 to Other Global Indices

MSCI World Index

The MSCI World Index is a global equity benchmark that captures large and mid-cap representation across 23 developed markets. When juxtaposed with the S&P 500, since the turn of the millennium in 2000, the American index has showcased superior performance, yielding an annualized return of 5.2% in stark contrast to the more modest 3.9% clocked by the MSCI World Index.

FTSE 100

Representing the crème de la crème of British corporate entities, the FTSE 100 index embodies the 100 most valuable companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. When measured against the S&P 500, the American behemoth has consistently overshadowed its British counterpart, churning out an annualized return of 5.2% since 2000, while the FTSE 100 trailed at just 1.2%.

Nikkei 225

Originating from the Land of the Rising Sun, the Nikkei 225 is a premier Japanese stock market index. Yet, its performance has been somewhat lacklustre compared to the S&P 500. Since 2000, the Nikkei 225 has returned a modest annualized rate of 2.1%. The relative underperformance is symptomatic of Japan’s prolonged tryst with economic stagnation and debilitating deflationary pressures.

DAX 30

From the heart of Europe, the DAX 30 is Germany’s flagship stock market index. Over the past couple of decades, it has outshone both the FTSE 100 and the Nikkei 225 but still trails behind the impressive performance of the S&P 500. From 2000 onward, the DAX 30 has managed an annual return of 3.7%, a commendable figure but still shy of the S&P 500’s robust 5.2%.

Shanghai Composite

Representing the might of the Chinese economy, the Shanghai Composite is an amalgamation of stocks listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Over the past two decades, this index has undergone tumultuous rapid growth phases followed by steep contractions. Since 2000, it has averaged an annual return of 4.5%, a figure that, while noteworthy, hasn’t surpassed the S&P 500’s stellar trajectory.

The Positives and Negatives of the S&P 500 Index


  • Diversification: One of the prime advantages of the S&P 500 is its inherent diversification. Spanning numerous industries, it acts as a safety net, minimizing the idiosyncratic risk of investing heavily in a singular sector. This broad exposure ensures that the fortunes of a few don’t unduly influence the entire index.
  • Historical solid performance: The S&P 500 has repeatedly proven its mettle, consistently outpacing many other international indices over extended periods. This track record provides a layer of assurance to investors seeking long-term growth.
  • Passive investing: In an era where cost-efficiency is paramount, the S&P 500 facilitates investors to dabble in low-cost, passively managed investment vehicles, like exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and index funds. Thispassive approach ensures minimal management fees while reaping the rewards of broad market performance.
  • Economic indicator: Beyond its investment appeal, the S&P 500 doubles up as a barometer, reflecting the health of the US economy. Its movements offer investors invaluable insights into market sentiment, potential economic trends, and the nation’s financial health.


  • Large-cap bias: Given its market-cap-weighted methodology, the S&P 500 leans heavily towards large-cap stocks. While these behemoths provide stability, this approach can inadvertently eclipse smaller, high-growth companies that might offer substantial returns.
  • Limited international exposure: Being predominantly a US-centric index, the S&P 500 may not provide investors with the desired global diversification. In today’s interconnected world, having assets spread across geographies can be an asset in and of itself.
  • Susceptibility to market downturns: The very strength of the S&P 500, its reliance on market-cap weightage, can also be its Achilles heel. In scenarios where market downturns disproportionately impact large-cap entities, the index can face severe setbacks, as witnessed during specific crisis periods.


Charting a journey that mirrors the ebbs and flows of the global economy, the S&P 500 stands tall as a testament to the resilience and dynamism of the American corporate sector. While its stellar track record makes it an enticing proposition for investors worldwide, it’s crucial to be aware of its limitations. As with all investment avenues, potential investors should weigh the positives against the negatives, contextualize the S&P 500’s historical performance, and strategically allocate their assets to effectively navigate the intricate tapestry of the global financial market.



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