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.
What Happens When the Stock Market Crashes?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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