Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index is the primary index used to track the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It was also the index that captured the fall of the Japanese stock market from 38,959 on the last day of 1989 to 7,603 in April 2003, a drop of 81% over the course of more than 13 years.
The Nikkei, therefore, provides an opportunity to test the idea of whether it is profitable to initiate new long positions in times of extreme volatility, even in prolonged bear markets.
In order to test this hypothesis, I reviewed the data for the Nikkei 225 from 1984 to the present and singled out the ten most volatile days during this period, using various volatility measures such as historical volatility and average true range. The result, which includes a number of overlapping days and clusters of similar volatility extremes, is displayed graphically in the chart below, courtesy of Stockcharts.com. In the chart, the seven instances with the highest volatility levels are highlighted by green arrows. Note that in each case a rally of at least two months followed these volatility extremes. In the one bull market example, the new bullish trend lasted for two years; in all the other bear market examples, the new bullish trend lasted from two months to 1 ½ years.
For the record, the action in the last two weeks in the Nikkei would make the current environment the most volatile of all instances, just as is the case for the S&P 500 at the moment.
While all bear markets are not created equally, Japan's "lost decade" does bear some resemblance to the problems in the U.S. Looking at the historical record with a global perspective, it is tempting to conclude that the current situation ripe for another volatility bounce of at least two months.