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.
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Even they know that the markets go through cycles. And right now, the markets are volatile. 2018 was a roller coaster ride that ended with a minor crash. The S&P 500 ended the year 6.5% in the red and the Nasdaq ended the year down 4.3%. Moreover, it was the worst December to hit Wall Street since the Great Depression, with tech stocks ending a nine-year winning streak.
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.
Thirty-two percent of Americans who were invested in the stock market during at least one of the last five financial downturns pulled some or all of their money out of the market. That’s according to a NerdWallet-commissioned survey, which was conducted online by The Harris Poll of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, among whom over 700 were invested in the stock market during at least one of the past five financial downturns, in June 2018. The survey also found that 28% of Americans would not keep their money in the stock market if there were a crash today.
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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'.
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%.
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.