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.
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.
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.
What Causes a Stock Market Crash?
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.