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.
Since the crashes of 1929 and 1987, safeguards have been put in place to prevent crashes due to panicked stockholders selling their assets. Such safeguards include trading curbs, or circuit breakers, which prevent any trade activity whatsoever for a certain period of time following a sharp decline in stock prices, in hopes of stabilizing the market and preventing it from falling further.
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The mathematical description of stock market movements has been a subject of intense interest. The conventional assumption has been that stock markets behave according to a random log-normal distribution. Among others, mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot suggested as early as 1963 that the statistics prove this assumption incorrect. Mandelbrot observed that large movements in prices (i.e. crashes) are much more common than would be predicted from a log-normal distribution. Mandelbrot and others suggested that the nature of market moves is generally much better explained using non-linear analysis and concepts of chaos theory. This has been expressed in non-mathematical terms by George Soros in his discussions of what he calls reflexivity of markets and their non-linear movement. George Soros said in late October 1987, 'Mr. Robert Prechter's reversal proved to be the crack that started the avalanche'.
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The following day, Black Tuesday, was a day of chaos. Forced to liquidate their stocks because of margin calls, overextended investors flooded the exchange with sell orders. The Dow fell 30.57 points to close at 230.07 on that day. The glamour stocks of the age saw their values plummet. Across the two days, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 23%.
Having been suspended for three successive trading days (October 9, 10, and 13), the Icelandic stock market reopened on 14 October, with the main index, the OMX Iceland 15, closing at 678.4, which was about 77% lower than the 3,004.6 at the close on October 8. This reflected that the value of the three big banks, which had formed 73.2% of the value of the OMX Iceland 15, had been set to zero.
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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.
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.)
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.
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On October 24, many of the world's stock exchanges experienced the worst declines in their history, with drops of around 10% in most indices. In the US, the DJIA fell 3.6%, i.e. not as much as other markets. Instead, both the US dollar and Japanese yen soared against other major currencies, particularly the British pound and Canadian dollar, as world investors sought safe havens. Later that day, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Charles Bean, suggested that "This is a once in a lifetime crisis, and possibly the largest financial crisis of its kind in human history."