Declines have jolted the stock market's bull run before

NEW YORK — It's really not so bad. Sure, the stock market is down nearly 5 percent since May 21, the day before the Federal Reserve first said it could begin pulling back its stimulus.

Yet taking a step back, the selloff ultimately could represent nothing more than a hiccup. The market is in the midst of a bull run that began in March 2009, and it has endured sharper declines several times since the rally began.

Investors have reason to feel confident stocks can bounce back yet again. The economy gradually is improving, and corporate earnings are setting records. Those factors drive stocks higher. "It's just a bump along the road, and these levels represent a buying opportunity," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

The 4.6 percent selloff from the S&P 500's May 21 record close of 1,669.16 doesn't even qualify as a pullback — defined as a slump from peak to trough of 5 percent to 9 percent.

Since bottoming out at a low of 676.53 after the financial crisis, the S&P 500 index has climbed 135 percent. During that stretch, it had six pullbacks and two corrections — losses of 10 percent or greater. The index has yet to slip into a bear market, a drop of 20 percent or more.

The first big wobble in the rally started April 23, 2010, when concerns about the European debt crisis unsettled investors. By July 2, the S&P 500 index had fallen 194.70 points, or 15.9 percent, to 1,022.58.

The next big interruption to the stock market's rise came a year later when the index fell by 245.79 points, or 18.3 percent, between July 22 and Oct. 3, 2011. The catalyst was a tussle between U.S. lawmakers in Washington over extending the debt ceiling.

The most recent slump came in the run-up to the November presidential election, when investors worried about the threat of fiscal stalemate. But once investors ultimately learned to live with the discord in Washington, the market resumed its upward surge, climbing almost without interruption to its most recent peak last month.

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