Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Black Monday on 1987

"Technically, the crash of 1987 bears an uncanny resemblance to the crash of 1929. The shape and extent of the decline and even the day-to-day movements of stock prices track very closely."

George Soros in The Alchemy of Finance

This crash is the one which is closer to me as I'm in primary school. Of course I knew nothing about the stock market then and was more concerned with alphabets and numbers :P This crash occured on Monday, hence the name black Monday. If you read carefully and compare the present situation, didn't you find much similarities? Haha, there's always lessons to be learnt from the past.

Black Monday stock market crash of 1987

The stock market crash of 1987 was the largest one day stock market crash in history. The Dow lost 22.6% of its value or $500 billion dollars on October 19 th 1987! In order to understand the crash, we must first study the cause.

1986 and 1987 were banner years for the stock market. These years were an extension of an extremely powerful bull market that started in the summer of 1982. This bull market had been fueled by hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts and merger mania. Companies were scrambling to raise capital to buy each other out, in essence. The philosophy of the time was that companies would grow exponentially simply by constantly purchasing other companies. In leveraged buyouts, a company would raise massive amounts of capital by selling junk bonds to the public. Junk bonds are simply bonds that have a high risk of loss, so they pay a high interest rate. The money raised by selling junk bonds, would go towards the purchase of the desired company. IPOs were also becoming a commonplace driver of the markets. An IPO is when a company issues stock for the first time. “Microcomputers” were also a top growth industry. People started to view the personal computer as a revolutionary tool that will change our way of life, and create wonderful profit opportunities. The investing public was caught up in a contagious euphoria, similar to that of any other bubble and market crash in history. This euphoria made people, once again, believe that the market would always go up.

Despite the strong economic growth, SEC was unable to prevent shady IPOs and conglomerates from proliferating. In early 1987, the SEC conducted numerous investigations of illegal insider trading. This created a wary stance from many investors at this point. Also, due to the extremely strong economic growth, inflation was now becoming a concern. The Fed rapidly raised short term interest rates to temper inflation. This, unfortunately, had an effect of hurting stocks as well. Many institutional trading firms started utilizing portfolio insurance to protect against further stock dips. Portfolio insurance is a practice that uses futures contracts as an insurance policy. People that hold the futures contracts can make money as the market crashes, offsetting the losses in the stock holdings. After interest rates had risen, many of the large institutional firms started using portfolio insurance all at the same time. The futures market was taking in billions of dollars within minutes, causing the futures market and the stock market to crash from instability. Additionally, common stock holders all wanted to sell simultaneously. The market couldn’t handle so many orders at once and most people couldn’t sell because there weren’t ANY buyers left!

Within one day, 500 billion dollars was evaporated from the Dow Jones index. Markets in every country around the world collapsed in the same fashion. When individual investors heard that a massive stock market crash was in effect, they scrambled to call their brokers. This was unsuccessful because each broker had many clients. Many people lost millions instantly. Some unstable individuals, who had lost fortunes, went to their broker’s office and started shooting. Several brokers were killed, despite the fact that they had no control over the market action. The majority of investors who were selling, didn’t even know why they were selling, except that they “saw everyone else selling”. This irrational mentality caused the extreme market crash. Most futures and stock exchanges were shut down for the day.

Around this time, the Fed started to intervene. Short term interest rates were instantly lowered to prevent a depression and a banking crisis. Remarkably, the markets recovered quickly from the worst one day stock market crash. Unlike the stock market crash of 1929, the market quickly started on a bull run, once again. This was powered by companies buying back their stocks that were undervalued after the severe crash. Additionally, the Japanese Nikkei index was embarking on its own massive bull market. This tremendous momentum helped pull the US stock markets to new heights never seen before. Some benefits came as a result of the 1987 stock market crash. For example, the circuit breakers system was implemented, which electronically stops stocks from trading if they plummet too quickly. This will prevent any future one day vertical drops, like 1987.

Once again, the remarkable similarity between all of the market crashes is striking. It seems that after all of the historical market crashes, people would learn to foresee a coming financial disaster. This rarely happens, of course, which is why there is constant opportunity for the smart money to prosper from the irrationality of other people.