Record Day for the Dow -- How Far We've Come

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) closed at a record high of 14,253.77 today, exceeding the previous high of 14,164.53 hit in 2007. Since the market bottomed on March 9, 2009, the Dow is up 118%, one of the best bull runs in the market's history.

Here's an idea of just how far we've come since the Great Recession began.

5 stats that show the Dow's progress
In 2009, the 30 components of the Dow saw revenue fall 10.1%. In 2010 and 2011, growth was 10.2% and 10.1%, respectively, and even 2012 saw revenue grow 1%.

Between 2007 and 2009, compounded normalized net income dropped 13.9%, showing just how quickly profits fell across corporate America. But in the past three years normalized net income has grown at an 11.1% rate, more than making up for what was lost.

A steep drop in capital spending accounted for a lot of the decline in 2009. Spending dropped 11% that year, but by 2010 capital spending was up 9.6%, and in the last three years capital spending has grown at an 11.1% compound rate. This is a strong indicator that companies are still investing in the future.

Between 2009 and 2012, the return on assets for Dow components has jumped from 2.7% to 3.2%.

During the recession we heard a lot more than normal about inventory, because there is a drag on the economy when companies cut inventory. Well, in the past three years, Dow companies have grown inventory at a rate of 12.3%, faster than revenue growth of 7% to make up for the lack of inventory during the recession.

These stats show just how quickly companies cut back leading up to the bottom of the recession in 2009 and how quickly they've recovered in the three years since.

Who's leading the way?
The market was last near current levels in 2007, but companies creating earth-shattering technology or fabulous new products haven't led the Dow. Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) has led the way, up 145% since October 2007, recovering from losses in the two prior years. But most telling about the past few years is that McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) is up 101% and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) is up 82%. The consumer was beaten up during the recession, and trading down was commonplace. Whether it was going from a sit-down meal to a drive-through or saving money on everyday items, investors who bet on companies with lower costs won from peak to peak.

Where do we go from here?
The Dow's new high is really nothing more than a symbolic marker that we'll focus on for a day or two before we move on. The bigger story is just how far we fell and how far we've come in the last three years. This is a once-per-generation bull market, and if growing profits and growing consumer confidence are any indication that more highs are ahead of us.

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