The stock market has risen from its bear-market ashes. If you've been fully invested, you've had a good five years. But you may be wondering how much more gas this bull market has left.

In order to be sure, you'd need a crystal ball. Without a copy of next year's almanac fresh off the time-machine presses, the best you can do is to look back at the way bull markets have performed in the past.

Not a record run
From the perspective of a current investor in the market, it seems as if stocks have gone straight up without a break forever. Since last summer, the S&P 500 is up more than 20%, and with the exception of the Shanghai Scare in February, that rise has come with nary a blip downward in the interval. Just a few months later, those Chinese stocks have come back strongly, with online search firm Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) setting new highs and oil giant Petrochina (NYSE:PTR) up 20% from March levels. Meanwhile, when you look at the S&P 500 from a longer-term perspective, you'll see that the index has almost doubled from the most recent bear-market lows in October 2002.

As good as that performance may have been for your investing portfolio, it's far from the best returns the stock market has ever produced. Looking back at past bull-market runs, there are several instances in which the market has advanced even further over similar periods of time.

For instance, during the 1950s, stocks had a huge move up, rising more than 250% over the course of seven years. During the bull market of the 1990s, stocks quintupled over a 10-year span. And prior to the 1987 stock market crash, the S&P 500 index more than tripled in just five years.

Shorter sprints
In other instances, big stock market gains have come during shorter time frames. On several occasions during the 1970s and 1980s, stocks rose 50% or more in just two or three years. For instance, following the bear market of 1973-74, in which stocks lost half their value, the S&P 500 rose more than 70% in the ensuing recovery.


S&P 500

S&P 500


5/26/1970 - 1/11/1973




10/4/1974 - 9/21/1976




8/13/1982 - 8/25/1987




10/11/1990 - 3/24/2000




10/9/2002 - 5/21/2007




Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Although the market has made a nice run since 2002, anyone who says that the rise is unprecedented is clearly forgetting stock market history. While that doesn't mean that the bull market won't potentially end tomorrow, it does mean that the recent advance could continue for quite a while before it would become a statistical anomaly. Trying to time exactly when the top will come is an exercise in futility.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger is prepared for a crash, a correction, or a continuing bull. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Baidu is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy goes beyond your expectations.