The economy had been growing for most of the Roaring Twenties. It was a technological golden age, as innovations such as the radio, automobile, aviation, telephone, and the power grid were deployed and adopted. Companies that had pioneered these advances, like Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and General Motors, saw their stocks soar. Financial corporations also did well, as Wall Street bankers floated mutual fund companies (then known as investment trusts) like the Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation. Investors were infatuated with the returns available in the stock market, especially by the use of leverage through margin debt.
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In 1907 and in 1908, the NYSE fell by nearly 50% due to a variety of factors, led by the manipulation of copper stocks by the Knickerbocker company. Shares of United Copper rose gradually up to October, and thereafter crashed, leading to panic. A number of investment trusts and banks that had invested their money in the stock market fell and started to close down. Further bank runs were prevented due to the intervention of J. P. Morgan. The panic continued to 1908 and led to the formation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.
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Meanwhile, those who are most concerned with corporate coffers, the chief financial officers (CFOs), are the least optimistic about the U.S. economy and, by extension, the stock market. Almost half (48.6%) of CFOs surveyed believe that the U.S. will fall into a recession in 2019, and a whopping 82% of them believe that a recession will occur in 2020. (Source: “Recession Considered Likely By Year-End 2019,” Duke CFO Global Business Outlook, last accessed March 14, 2019.)
There is no numerically specific definition of a stock market crash but the term commonly applies to steep double-digit percentage losses in a stock market index over a period of several days. Crashes are often distinguished from bear markets by panic selling and abrupt, dramatic price declines. Bear markets are periods of declining stock market prices that are measured in months or years. Crashes are often associated with bear markets, however, they do not necessarily go hand in hand. The crash of 1987, for example, did not lead to a bear market. Likewise, the Japanese bear market of the 1990s occurred over several years without any notable crashes.
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The 1987 Crash was a worldwide phenomenon. The FTSE 100 Index lost 10.8% on that Monday and a further 12.2% the following day. In the month of October, all major world markets declined substantially. The least affected was Austria (a fall of 11.4%) while the most affected was Hong Kong with a drop of 45.8%. Out of 23 major industrial countries, 19 had a decline greater than 20%.
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Markets can also be stabilized by large entities purchasing massive quantities of stocks, essentially setting an example for individual traders and curbing panic selling. However, these methods are not only unproven, they may not be effective. In one famous example, the Panic of 1907, a 50 percent drop in stocks in New York set off a financial panic that threatened to bring down the financial system. J. P. Morgan, the famous financier and investor, convinced New York bankers to step in and use their personal and institutional capital to shore up markets.
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Despite fears of a repeat of the 1930s Depression, the market rallied immediately after the crash, posting a record one-day gain of 102.27 the very next day and 186.64 points on Thursday October 22. It took only two years for the Dow to recover completely; by September 1989, the market had regained all of the value it had lost in the 1987 crash. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained six-tenths of a percent during the calendar year 1987.
Stock market crashes are social phenomena where external economic events combine with crowd behavior and psychology in a positive feedback loop where selling by some market participants drives more market participants to sell. Generally speaking, crashes usually occur under the following conditions: a prolonged period of rising stock prices and excessive economic optimism, a market where P/E ratios (Price-Earning ratio) exceed long-term averages, and extensive use of margin debt and leverage by market participants. Other aspects such as wars, large-corporation hacks, changes in federal laws and regulations, and natural disasters of highly economically productive areas may also influence a significant decline in the stock market value of a wide range of stocks. All such stock drops may result in the rise of stock prices for corporations competing against the affected corporations.
The crash on October 19, 1987, a date that is also known as Black Monday, was the climactic culmination of a market decline that had begun five days before on October 14. The DJIA fell 3.81 percent on October 14, followed by another 4.60 percent drop on Friday, October 16. On Black Monday, the Dow Jones Industrials Average plummeted 508 points, losing 22.6% of its value in one day. The S&P 500 dropped 20.4%, falling from 282.7 to 225.06. The NASDAQ Composite lost only 11.3%, not because of restraint on the part of sellers, but because the NASDAQ market system failed. Deluged with sell orders, many stocks on the NYSE faced trading halts and delays. Of the 2,257 NYSE-listed stocks, there were 195 trading delays and halts during the day. The NASDAQ market fared much worse. Because of its reliance on a "market making" system that allowed market makers to withdraw from trading, liquidity in NASDAQ stocks dried up. Trading in many stocks encountered a pathological condition where the bid price for a stock exceeded the ask price. These "locked" conditions severely curtailed trading. On October 19, trading in Microsoft shares on the NASDAQ lasted a total of 54 minutes.
The Dow was already down 20 percent from its September 3 high, according to Yahoo Finance DJIA Historical Prices. That signaled a bear market. In late September, investors had been worried about massive declines in the British stock market. Investors in Clarence Hatry's company lost billions when they discovered he used fraudulent collateral to buy United Steel. A few days later, Great Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, described America's stock market as "a perfect orgy of speculation." The next day, U.S. newspapers agreed.
The Times of London reported that the meltdown was being called the Crash of 2008, and older traders were comparing it with Black Monday in 1987. The fall that week of 21% compared to a 28.3% fall 21 years earlier, but some traders were saying it was worse. "At least then it was a short, sharp, shock on one day. This has been relentless all week." Business Week also referred to the crisis as a "stock market crash" or the "Panic of 2008".
By the end of the weekend of November 11, the index stood at 228, a cumulative drop of 40% from the September high. The markets rallied in succeeding months, but it was a temporary recovery that led unsuspecting investors into further losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 89% of its value before finally bottoming out in July 1932. The crash was followed by the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis of modern times, which plagued the stock market and Wall Street throughout the 1930s.
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The crash followed an asset bubble. Since 1922, the stock market had gone up by almost 20 percent a year. Everyone invested, thanks to a financial invention called buying "on margin." It allowed people to borrow money from their broker to buy stocks. They only needed to put down 10-20 percent. Investing this way contributed to the irrational exuberance of the Roaring Twenties.