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.
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 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.
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.
Tulip Mania (in the mid-1630s) is often considered to be the first recorded speculative bubble. Historically, early stock market bubbles and crashes have also their roots in socio-politico-economic activities of the 17th-century Dutch Republic (the birthplace of the world's first formal stock exchange and market), the Dutch East India Company (the world's first formally listed public company), and the Dutch West India Company (WIC/GWIC) in particular. As Stringham & Curott (2015) remarked, "Business ventures with multiple shareholders became popular with commenda contracts in medieval Italy (Greif, 2006, p. 286), and Malmendier (2009) provides evidence that shareholder companies date back to ancient Rome. Yet the title of the world's first stock market deservedly goes to that of seventeenth-century Amsterdam, where an active secondary market in company shares emerged. The two major companies were the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company, founded in 1602 and 1621. Other companies existed, but they were not as large and constituted a small portion of the stock market (Israel  1991, 109–112; Dehing and 't Hart 1997, 54; de la Vega  1996, 173)."
How Long Did It Take the Stock Market to Recover After the 1929 Crash?
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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%.
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.)
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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The mid-1980s were a time of strong economic optimism. From August 1982 to its peak in August 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) grew from 776 to 2722. The rise in market indices for the 19 largest markets in the world averaged 296 percent during this period. The average number of shares traded on the NYSE(New York Stock Exchange) had risen from 65 million shares to 181 million shares.
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.
What about corporate America? According to a New York Times survey of business leaders, almost half of the respondents believe that the U.S. could face a recession by the end of 2019. And if not in 2019, then in 2020. (Source: “A jarring new survey shows CEOs think a recession could strike as soon as year-end 2019,” Business Insider, December 17, 2018.)
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.
From October 6–10 the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed lower in all five sessions. Volume levels were record-breaking. The DJIA fell over 1,874 points, or 18%, in its worst weekly decline ever on both a points and percentage basis. The S&P 500 fell more than 20%. The week also set 3 top ten NYSE Group Volume Records with October 8 at #5, October 9 at #10, and October 10 at #1.
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On August 24, 1921, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at a value of 63.9. By September 3, 1929, it had risen more than sixfold, touching 381.2. It would not regain this level for another 25 years. By the summer of 1929, it was clear that the economy was contracting, and the stock market went through a series of unsettling price declines. These declines fed investor anxiety, and events came to a head on October 24, 28, and 29 (known respectively as Black Thursday, Black Monday, and Black Tuesday).
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.