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After two weeks of accelerating declines, five of the eight indexes on my world watch list posted gains for the past week, with the Western indexes filling the top four places. The S&P 500 was the strongest performer, up 1.74%. Of the four Asia-Pacific indexes, only the BSE Sensex finished the week in the green. The Hang Seng was the worst performer, down 1.26%, but that is a significant improvement over its savage declines of more than five percent for both of the two previous weeks.

The chart inset in the table below shows that six of the eight markets remain in bear territory -- the traditional designation for a 20% decline from an interim high, and the FTSE 100 remains below the "correction" level (a decline of 10%). In contrast, last week the S&P 500 improved its lead in the race to set a new interim high.

As for YTD performance, here is a table showing the 2012 peak percentage gains, sorted in that order, and current YTD gains for the eight indexes. Despite last week's gains for five of the eight, the gap between 2012 highs and the YTD performance clearly highlights the worldwide volatility in equities so far this year.

A Closer Look at the Last Four Weeks

The tables below provide a concise overview of performance comparisons over the past four weeks for these eight major indexes. I've also included the average for each week so that we can evaluate the performance of a specific index relative to the overall mean and better understand weekly volatility. The colors for each index name help us visualize the comparative performance over time.

The chart below illustrates the comparative performance of World Markets since March 9, 2009. The start date is arbitrary: The S&P 500, CAC 40 and BSE SENSEX hit their lows on March 9th, the Nikkei 225 on March 10th, the DAX on March 6th, the FTSE on March 3rd, the Shanghai Composite on November 4, 2008, and the Hang Seng even earlier on October 27, 2008. However, by aligning on the same day and measuring the percent change, we get a better sense of the relative performance than if we align the lows.

A Longer Look Back

Here is the same chart starting from the turn of 21st century. The relative over-performance of the emerging markets (Shanghai, Mumbai SENSEX, Hang Seng) is readily apparent.

Note from dshort: At the suggestion of Joerg Willig, a finance professional in Germany, I replaced the DAX index, which includes dividends, with the price-only DAXK, which is consistent with the other indexes.