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.
Investing in the stock market is inherently risky, but what makes for winning long-term returns is the ability to ride out the unpleasantness and remain invested for the eventual recovery (which, historically speaking, is always on the horizon). You’ll be able to do that if you know how much volatility you’re willing to stomach in exchange for higher potential returns.
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.)
Ideally, at the start of your investment journey, you did risk profiling. If you skipped this step and are only now wondering how aligned your investments are to your temperament, that’s OK. Measuring your actual reactions during market agita will provide valuable data for the future. Just keep in mind that your answers may be biased based on the market’s most recent activity.
For example, the United States has a set of thresholds in place to guard against crashes. If the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) falls 2,400 points (threshold 2) before 1:00 p.m., the market will be frozen for an hour. If it falls below 3,600 points (threshold 3), the market closes for the day. Other countries have similar measures in place. The problem with this method today is that if one stock exchange closes, shares can often still be bought or sold in other exchanges, which can cause the preventative measures to backfire.
Why Do They Call It Black Tuesday?
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.
Research at the New England Complex Systems Institute has found warning signs of crashes using new statistical analysis tools of complexity theory. This work suggests that the panics that lead to crashes come from increased mimicry in the market. A dramatic increase in market mimicry occurred during the whole year before each market crash of the past 25 years, including the recent financial crisis. When investors closely follow each other's cues, it is easier for panic to take hold and affect the market. This work is a mathematical demonstration of a significant advance warning sign of impending market crashes.