Dead Cat Bounce: What It Means in Investing, With Examples

What Is a Dead Cat Bounce?

A dead cat bounce is a temporary, short-lived recovery of asset prices from a prolonged decline or a bear market that is followed by the continuation of the downtrend. Frequently, downtrends are interrupted by brief periods of recovery—or small rallies—during which prices temporarily rise.

The name "dead cat bounce" is based on the notion that even a dead cat will bounce if it falls far enough and fast enough. It is an example of a sucker's rally.

Key Takeaways

  • A dead cat bounce is a short-lived and often sharp rally that occurs within a secular downtrend.
  • It is a rally that is unsupported by fundamentals that is reversed by price movement to the downside.
  • In technical analysis, a dead cat bounce is considered to be a continuation pattern.
  • At first, the bounce may appear to be a reversal of the prevailing trend, but it is quickly followed by a continuation of the downward price move. 
  • Dead cat bounce patterns are usually only realized after the fact and are difficult to identify in real-time.

Dead Cat Bounce

What Does a Dead Cat Bounce Tell You?

A dead cat bounce is a price pattern used by technical analysts. It is considered a continuation pattern, where at first the bounce may appear to be a reversal of the prevailing trend, but it is quickly followed by a continuation of the downward price move. It becomes a dead cat bounce (and not a reversal) after the price drops below its prior low.

Frequently, downtrends are interrupted by brief periods of recovery, or small rallies, when prices temporarily rise. This can be a result of traders or investors closing out short positions or buying on the assumption that the security has reached a bottom.

A dead cat bounce is a price pattern that is usually recognized in hindsight. Analysts may attempt to predict that the recovery will be only temporary by using certain technical and fundamental analysis tools. A dead cat bounce can be seen in the broader economy, such as during the depths of a recession, or it can be seen in the price of an individual stock or group of stocks.

Short-term traders may attempt to profit from the small rally, and traders and investors might try to use the temporary reversal as a good opportunity to initiate a short position.

Similar to identifying a market peak or trough, recognizing a dead cat bounce ahead of time is fraught with difficulty, even for skilled investors. In March 2009, for example, economist Nouriel Roubini of New York University referred to the incipient stock market recovery as a dead cat bounce, predicting that the market would reverse course in short order and plummet to new lows. Instead, March 2009 marked the beginning of a protracted bull market, eventually surpassing its pre-recession high.


Examples of a Dead Cat Bounce

Let's consider a historical example. Stock prices for Cisco Systems peaked at $82 per share in March 2000 before falling to $15.81 in March 2001 amid the dot-com collapse. Cisco saw many dead cat bounces in the ensuing years. The stock recovered to $20.44 by November 2001, only to fall to $10.48 by September 2002. Fast forward to June 2016 and Cisco traded at $28.47 per share, barely one-third of its peak price during the tech bubble in 2000.

A more recent example is the price action in the market following the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020. Between the week of Feb. 21 and Feb. 28 2020, U.S. markets lost around 12% as headlines began to hit and panic set in. The next week the market rose 2%, giving some people the impression that the worst was over. But this was a classic dead cat bounce, as the market subsequently fell an additional 25% over the next two weeks. Only later, during the summer of 2020, did markets recover.

Limitations in Identifying a Dead Cat Bounce

As mentioned above, most of the time a dead cat bounce can only be identified after the fact. This means that traders that notice a rally after a steep decline may think it is a dead cat bounce when in reality it is a trend reversal signaling a prolonged upswing.

How can investors determine whether a current upward movement is a dead cat bounce or a market reversal? If we could answer this correctly all the time, we'd be able to make a lot of money. The fact is that there is no simple answer to spotting a market bottom.

How Long Can a Dead Cat Bounce Last?

A dead cat bounce typically lasts only a few days, although it can sometimes extend over a period of a few months.

What Causes a Dead Cat Bounce?

Reasons for a dead cat bounce include a clearing of short positions, investors incorrectly believing the bottom has been reached, or from investors trying to find oversold assets. Ultimately, the dead cat bounce is not founded on fundamentals and so the market continues to decline soon after.

What Is the Opposite of a Dead Cat Bounce?

An inverted dead cat bounce is a temporary and often severe sell-off during an otherwise secular bull market. It has many of the characteristics of a dead cat bounce, but in reverse.

The Bottom Line

When markets drop, a relief rally may cause investors to think that the worst is over. However, it could just be a dead cat bounce: a sharp bull run in an otherwise secular bear market. Those that get caught by a dead cat bounce can experience losses as timing market bottoms is extremally difficult and risky.

Article Sources
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  2. Macrotrends. "S&P 500 Index - 90 Year Historical Chart."

  3. Macrotrends. "Cisco - 32 Year Stock Price History | CSCO."