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.)
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%.
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.
Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that there is evidence the frequency of stock market crashes follows an inverse cubic power law. This and other studies such as Prof. Didier Sornette's work suggest that stock market crashes are a sign of self-organized criticality in financial markets. In 1963, Mandelbrot proposed that instead of following a strict random walk, stock price variations executed a Lévy flight. A Lévy flight is a random walk that is occasionally disrupted by large movements. In 1995, Rosario Mantegna and Gene Stanley analyzed a million records of the S&P 500 market index, calculating the returns over a five-year period. Researchers continue to study this theory, particularly using computer simulation of crowd behaviour, and the applicability of models to reproduce crash-like phenomena.
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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.
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."