The origins of the phrase Bulls and Bears – heated debate

The origins of the phrase Bulls and Bears – heated debate

17:11 PM, 9th January 2011, About 13 years ago 7

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This week I’ve been involved in a group debate with three people who hide their identity on a popular property investors forum. 

The people on the opposite side of the debate consider me to be a property Bull and themselves to be Bears.  They do not invest into property.  One went under the handle “Wisebear”.

Their advice to me was to sell 90% of my portfolio, pay off my remaining mortgages and hold my assets in cash and gold.  Their logic for this is that the UK is heading for the most devastating downward spiral in history and will suffer the same fate as Iceland – bankruptcy.  They presented all sorts of graphs, charts and explainations for this. 

I really couldn’t understand why they came onto a property forum to do this but that’s perhaps a topic for another day.

Obviously I disagreed with the majority of their point of view, as did most of the forum members and for a while the debate became quite heated and on occasions slightly abusive. All good fun!  The so called Bears held their ground quite well in fairness.  If is was their intention to start the debate to wind up property investors they certainly achieved their goal.  Well they did with me anyway!  It is a property forum after all so what would they expect?

The property investors were generally very accommodating and interested, at least in hearing the so called Bears opinions to start off with.  However, the so called Bears eventually became quite abusive and arrogant.  It’s was a bit like debating with those crazies who stand on street corners with sandwich boards evangelising that “the end of the world is nigh.”  Reasoning with them became impossible and they got more and more arrogant and abusive which was a real shame.

The debate raised the question from another member of the forum; “where did the phrase Bulls and Bears come from?”

 I researched the subject and came up with the following:- 

Long ago, “bear skin jobbers” were known for selling bear skins that they did not own; i.e., the bears had not yet been caught. This was the original source of the term “bear.” This term eventually was used to describe short sellers, speculators who sold shares that they did not own, bought after a price drop, and then delivered the shares.

Because bull and bear baiting were once popular sports, “bulls” was understood as the opposite of “bears.” i.e., the bulls were those people who bought in the expectation that a stock price would rise, not fall.

In addition, the cartoonist Thomas Nast played a role in popularizing the symbols ‘Bull’ and ‘Bear’.

Finally, Don Luskin wrote a nice history of these terms for on 15 May 2001.

The guy who raised the question about the origins of the phrases Bull and Bear then made the following comment.  “I was just curious as to why they used bulls and bears as both are known to be brave animals, would have thought they would have used a timid animal to describe bears and the opposite for bulls.”  This was obviously a question that arose off the back of the debate itself.

This made me realise that the people that I’d been debating with were not Bear market traders at all.  If anything they are bullish about gold and generally pessimists.  My response was:-

“Shorting the market has just as many if not more risks as an investment as hoping for the market to rise.  Both animals are brave, they just have completely different characteristics.  Going by the definitions provided above the so called Bears involved in this debate are not actually Bears at all.  From what they said in various threads about their own investments they are Bulls when it comes to Gold but pessimists by nature.  They don’t appear to have the confidence to invest into inverse investment instruments themselves and therefore have no right to refer to themselves as Bears IMHO.”

 The Property Investors generally agreed that “ArrogantPessimist” might have been a better handle to hide behind for the self styled WiseBear.”

Personally, I have the utmost admiration for both bull and bear market traders but I don’t like to use either label to describe my property investment strategy.  My passion is for property and I don’t profess to have any significant knowledge of macro economics or the share markets.  They are far too complicated for me.

Do you consider yourself to be a Bull, a Bear or something else? 

Please explain why.

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Richard Greenland Richard

17:58 PM, 9th January 2011, About 13 years ago

I'm a 'bear' when it comes to where I think property prices are headed this year. But that doesn't stop me thinking there are lots of ways to make a profit in property - as I attempted to make wisebear and co understand on propertytribes, but they didn't want to hear it. Their posts amount to a form of trolling IMHO, I gain some mild amusement from baiting them back but I suppose I'm wasting my time.

Jo King just sent me this link on twitter BTW!

Cheers, Rich

18:09 PM, 9th January 2011, About 13 years ago

Hi Rich

If you don't already do so you can follow me on Twitter @iAmALandlord

I too think property values will fall slightly on the HPI index this year so I suppose some may say that I'm bearish in that regard too.

However, as we both have similar buying strategies we both know that values would have to fall by 20% to 30% plus and interest rates would have to rocket before we start losing money.

The doom and gloom pessamists actually do us a favour by creating uncertainty in the property market. That's why 1 in 30 motivated sellers accept the ridiculously low offer we make. As we both know my friend, it's a numbers game.

Thanks for contributing and it's good to see that the experienced Property Forum members are following this Blog.

Remember, to make sure you dont miss out on any of the Blogs, our Weekly Headlines Updates are a free service - click here to subscribe if you have not already done so.

The deal you did this week would make an excellent case study for this Blog by the way. We're planning to launch a Guest Blogger topic. Would you like to be one of the first to contribute? If so, please email me at

Take care



9:06 AM, 10th January 2011, About 13 years ago

Hi Mark,

Interesting piece of writing, a good insight into often bandied around terms of reference.

As you know I'm also a regular contributor on the same property forum and the change in dynamic fascinates me.

To explain, not too many months ago the majority on there were portrayed as the 'good guys' ie anti NMD financing, professional, courteous etc. and challenges that came were usually swiftly and sharply rebuffed as they generally challenged moral or ethical 'standards'

Fast forward only a short time and there is now emerging a new sub-group of self appointed 'good guys' who also go under the title 'Bears' and seem to enjoy the constant jibes at those who they perceive to be 'Bulls'

Now then, I personally see neither as a derogatory term, more a case of a relflection on personal attitude and risk profile, in this context property investment. You yourself make a very valid observation in that a number of these 'Bears' are not involved in property investment themselves and surely by definition in this arena, they would certainly have a bearish attitude as those who do invest would be bullish by comparison?

I also agree that uncertainty breeds opportunity as long as we have conviction in our opinion, then all will be fine. If it goes wrong then we dust ourselves down and start again.


9:49 AM, 10th January 2011, About 13 years ago

Mr Hubbard


Another person I would love to see here as a Guest Blogger. I and many other of our readers would, I am sure, like to read your views on two of the biggest lenders refusing to finance properties sourced professionally. I know that you are working to put together a steering comittee to create a professional body come trade Association for Property Sourcers and I've offered my support. Hopefully the lenders will buy into supporting such a body and its membership criteria and OFT registered Code of Practice and independently operated grievance procedures. Perhaps you could give our readers some insight into what the membership criteria might entail and what property investors should be asking of property sourcers they are considering working with in the absence or a body that can provide resource to rogue traders.

Thank you for posting here.



15:14 PM, 13th January 2011, About 13 years ago

As an Economics graduate the explanation given to me to explain of bull and bear markets was always that bulls use their horns to push upwards when attacking hence the market is on the UP and bears paw downwards when fighting hence the market is on the way DOWN.

On the subject of where I am as a property investor I believe that the market will go down or at best remain static this year, however that wouldnt put me off investing in the right property as my strategy is long term.

15:20 PM, 13th January 2011, About 13 years ago

Thanks for sharing your Bull & Bear story Jay. None of us know where the bottom of the market will be, it might be this year, next year or last year. Only time will tell. The secret to success is to buy bargains at far deeper discounts than we envisage the market falling by. Not easy but do'able as a result of uncertainty in the property market, motivated sellers and playing the numbers game. If the bargain properties don't stack up as long term investments, maximise value at low cost and sell them at a profit. If they produce positive cashflow based on a much higher notianal rates of interest rate than we have now, keep them. Simples!

11:53 AM, 11th May 2011, About 13 years ago

Very efficiently written post. It will be valuable to everyone who uses it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – looking forward to more posts.
share market

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