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The Times of London reported that the meltdown was being called the Crash of 2008, and older traders were comparing it with Black Monday in 1987. The fall that week of 21% compared to a 28.3% fall 21 years earlier, but some traders were saying it was worse. "At least then it was a short, sharp, shock on one day. This has been relentless all week." Business Week also referred to the crisis as a "stock market crash" or the "Panic of 2008".
No definitive conclusions have been reached on the reasons behind the 1987 Crash. Stocks had been in a multi-year bull run and market P/E ratios in the U.S. were above the post-war average. The S&P 500 was trading at 23 times earnings, a postwar high and well above the average of 14.5 times earnings. Herd behavior and psychological feedback loops play a critical part in all stock market crashes but analysts have also tried to look for external triggering events. Aside from the general worries of stock market overvaluation, blame for the collapse has been apportioned to such factors as program trading, portfolio insurance and derivatives, and prior news of worsening economic indicators (i.e. a large U.S. merchandise trade deficit and a falling U.S. dollar, which seemed to imply future interest rate hikes).
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.
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.
On Black Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 38.33 points to 260, a drop of 12.8%. The deluge of selling overwhelmed the ticker tape system that normally gave investors the current prices of their shares. Telephone lines and telegraphs were clogged and were unable to cope. This information vacuum only led to more fear and panic. The technology of the New Era, previously much celebrated by investors, now served to deepen their suffering.
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'.
One mitigation strategy has been the introduction of trading curbs, also known as "circuit breakers", which are a trading halt in the cash market and the corresponding trading halt in the derivative markets triggered by the halt in the cash market, all of which are affected based on substantial movements in a broad market indicator. Since their inception, circuit breakers have been modified to prevent both speculative gains and dramatic losses within a small time frame.