And yes, the band did play on.
October 19, 2007 6:25 AM   Subscribe

It was twenty years ago today...

on October 19th 2007 that US Equity markets had their biggest one day movement ever. Following up on an overnight 5% correction which jolted Hong Kong, a sharp, 10% sell off that hit London, the Dow collapsed 508 points, or over 22% in one day. The value of US Equities decreased by over one trillion dollars during the last of four days of relentless selling.

Several weeks later, Nicholas Brady was appointed by then US President Ronald Reagan to lead a commission investigating this event. Their conclusion was simple: stock valuations were not at fault, rather the existing infrastructure wasn’t equipped to handle a huge surge in trading volume.

Three of the commissions recommendations ( "Brady Report", 1988, Presidential Task Force on Market Mechanisms): improved settlement and clearance procedures, increasing capacity at the exchanges and, somewhat controversially, “market circuit breakers” which slow then ultimately stop trading should equity prices first tumble, then sharply move down in value (I say “controversially”, as nobody complains if a share gains 100% in one day, now do they?)

Andrew Lo, author of "A Non-random Walk Down Wall Street" (Princeton University Press, 1999) stated in today's FT "We now have a much better integrated and connected set of financial markets. Disruption in one can very easily spill over".

What's your view? Do you think another US Equity market collapse would, for example, drive a flight to safety in US Treasuries? Or would massive losses in the stock market cause bond yields to skyrocket? What would the impact of such a huge equity market loss be on single stock futures, which weren’t tradable products in 1987 but were available – and widely blamed – for the 1929 crash? While those on the correct side of a tumbling futures contract would welcome variation margin, would the equity and futures markets disconnect? Would we first see ripples, then a violent tsunami like wave of selling engulfing all markets?

Curiously, significant international news of that time also was US / Iran saber rattling.

posted by Mutant (27 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
on October 19th 2007

I slept too long! Apparently, it's 2027!
posted by SansPoint at 6:31 AM on October 19, 2007

on October 19th 2007... or 1987, whichever. (Mods?)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:32 AM on October 19, 2007

Whoops! That'll teach me to post while teleconferencing and BlackBerrying and what not. 1987 is indeed correct. Please change if at all possible. Aplogies for the hassle.
posted by Mutant at 6:37 AM on October 19, 2007

Also, oil prices are above $90/barrel today.

Kevin Norrish of Barclays Capital said that the issue no longer seems to be whether oil will reach $100 a barrel, but when.

"Until there is a clear prospect of the [supply-demand] gap being filled, then the course is set for the market to take out $90, $100 and $110 in fairly quick succession," Mr Norrish said.

posted by Avenger at 6:43 AM on October 19, 2007

What's your view?

Bernanke blamed the 1987 crash on a lack of liquidity. As Fed Chairman, his views on liquidity appear not to have changed. He stands at the ready, finger on the printing press.

Not to worry. A few years of 1970's-style inflation will sort it all out.
posted by three blind mice at 6:56 AM on October 19, 2007

Aplogies for the hassle.

Aplogy acpted.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:58 AM on October 19, 2007

This week's issue of the Economist is all about this.

of course, I don't remember this, because i was an infant. You're all old.
posted by dismas at 7:06 AM on October 19, 2007

For whatever it's worth, the 1987 blip was an aberration. The market made back all it had lost in just a few months.

A lot of what happened that day was the result of "programmed trading", a kind of automated arbitrage that a lot of people got into back then. The problem with it was that when a significant number of players in the game were doing that, it was possible for the system to get into a runaway spiral.

One of the changes they instituted was to put a 15-minute delay on reports of all stock prices. This effectively killed programmed trading, because the latency introduced too much uncertainty.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:13 AM on October 19, 2007

One of the changes they instituted was to put a 15-minute delay on reports of all stock prices. This effectively killed programmed trading, because the latency introduced too much uncertainty.

When I worked for a finance company in 1998-1999, we appeared to get enough accurate data to accomplish an awful lot of programmed trading. I was specifically hired to support and develop trading systems and broker support systems in perl that would interface with Bloomberg and Telerate feeds, as well as stuff we got off the "hoot" from the trading floor.

Of course, this was in the day-trading hey-day, so my impressions of the speed of data may be skewed by what people using Yahoo Chat rooms considered "fast". For what it's worth, at least 2 people in my department clocked over a million dollars in day trades, based on the access to data that they had over all the other mooks sitting around in those chatrooms yelling "RUN ON AMAZON!!!111one".
posted by thanotopsis at 7:19 AM on October 19, 2007

"The market made back all it had lost in just a few months.".

True. The Dow bounced back to the pre-crash level in about fifteen months or so. Only opportunity cost was effectively lost.

By contrast, those who bought right after the 1929 crash lost about 85% of their capital over the next two years.
posted by Mutant at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2007

Steven...there is no 15 minute delay...I sit here and look at live prices all just have to pay for live prices. Don't have time to go into the detailed changes although they are pretty well explained if you dig through the above links....see "stock market circuit breakers."
posted by cyclopz at 7:21 AM on October 19, 2007

"... a 15-minute delay on reports of all stock prices..."

I worked on a trading desk in the early 90's building systems to do what's known as
'Statistical Arbitrage'
. We traded off high frequency data sourced from the various exchanges. This was real time data, and not subject to excessive delays. Back then we had to be physically close to the exchange, so everyone doing this was clustered in Lower Manhattan.

As there are still jobs advertised, I suspect this is a viable trading strategy today.
posted by Mutant at 7:41 AM on October 19, 2007

A classic Den Beste-ism above. In fact, automated trading is alive and well.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 7:42 AM on October 19, 2007

"This effectively killed programmed trading"

Shit. I better break this to my boss in algorithmic trading, he is going to be pissed.
posted by Reto at 8:02 AM on October 19, 2007

I use tea leaves and the dried and ground up liver of an ox to get the latest stock prices. And all I can say is..SELL!! SELL!! SELLL DAMMIT!!
posted by Skygazer at 8:16 AM on October 19, 2007

I was going to do my own fpp about this, but I snoozed so I loozed.

The date is not what makes today signficant, or rather what makes Monday significant. These market crashes, like the one in 1987 tend to happen the Monday following options expiration Friday, and the Friday market was usually down.

What do we have today? Options expiration friday. S&P, Nasdaq, Dow down roughly 1.5% at noon, in the worst day since the Sept. 18 fed rate cut. We have banks getting smashed over their crappy CDO and mortgage portfolios (Bank of America on tuesday, ETFC today). We have the IMF saying the dollar is overvalued, and oil is punching through $90. We have no coattail effect from great earnings by Google or ISRG. Worse, the gold stocks and commodity stocks that should be rallying are down with everything else.

Forget what happened in '87. This Monday is shaping up to be ugly.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:53 AM on October 19, 2007

Program trading is alive and well. Only on free websites is trading data delayed by 15 minutes. You could validate this in 60 seconds or so.

If you follow SvdB's posting history, you'll see a habit of his entering into a thread early, throwing in something that's factually wrong, then not reappearing. Be warned.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:01 AM on October 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Forget what happened in '87. This Monday is shaping up to be ugly.

Heh, and that company I worked for back in the 90s? They posted a 612 million dollar loss this week and laid off 400 people in their US offices. The CEO seems like a good guy, though, and took a 30% pay cut and apologized to those people who are now out of work because the Japanese don't seem to understand how the Americans could fund such sub-prime loans in the first place.

I'll always remember that job as the only one I ever had where the lunch cafe served fresh sushi and you had to take off your shoes when you dined in the executive lunch area.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:03 AM on October 19, 2007

Forget what happened in '87. This Monday is shaping up to be ugly

Tell me about it! I haven't done any laundry, my hair is getting to that awkward length and I got a messy weekend planned.
posted by monkeyx-uk at 9:16 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of the changes they instituted was to put a 15-minute delay on reports of all stock prices.

This is priceless. And by priceless I mean fundamentally misinformed and completely incorrect.
posted by malocchio at 11:31 AM on October 19, 2007

It was like some drunken Christmas party, with people wandering around totally out of it. Angry, shocked, freaked out, anxious…it was a slaughter. I was stockbroker in MA at the time of the crash. My wife was a broker across the Street working for Shearson. Have a hard remembering all that happen 20 years ago, and I was a small fish in a backwater creek. It was weird to see it go into freefall on Friday. On Monday the crash bottomed out with the market lacking liquidity. It was very freaky to watch it crash and think "hey we are going into another depression!" Orders placed for sale or buy just disappeared and you had no idea if they had been exercised. This scenario really terrified those who were leveraged. Reports announcements sounded like those at a stock race. I remember one of Prudential commentators started his talk with something to the effect that "Looks like little Johnny will not be getting that bike under the Christmas Tree." People with balls were putting in buy order as it went down and they made out very well as a result. As the market crashed the program index traders were trashed. These trading groups had hired award winning physics and mathematicians and invented another "novel" way of making money. Using trading models from these scientists they had huge positions and were using arbitrage (difference between 2 markets) They would buy a basket of all stocks making up an index (OE X 500) and options on the index. They profiting by trading stocks that made up that index against the options on the index. The margins between were razor thin and required huge, amounts of investments to capture that difference. Using state of the art computers loaded with investments algorithms which were programmed to exercise large trades automatically. Speed of execution was critical for success, as the holes would close quickly as others saw opportunity. What no one was able to see was what would happen if the market really tanked. As it fell on Friday, pre positions orders to go off and selling started an avalanche that brought more and more people into the market and the trading volume picked up exponentionally, overwhelming the floor. Like a fire in a crowed night club, people and groups were frantic to get out and they jammed the exits, no could get out. Market makers were those people on the floor who were responsible for the trading of their "stock.” Market makers were responsible for the execution on the floor of the Exchange. These people made their money by collecting the difference between the bid and ask side on trades in their respective market. The catch was that they had to buy when no one was buying and sell when no one was selling. This helped in keeping the market orderly and liquid. But as the sell orders became a crushing it bottlenecking the system, until no one could move. Frozen solid little moved in the markets. Market makers who had to buy quickly ran out of cash, liquidity ceased to exist and the market became worthless. The major banks refused to lend money to the market makers so the Fed stepped in and said they would cover the loans that the banks gave to the market makers. It’s weird to see Fed fund once again being used, this time against mortgage securities. The long and short was that the depression was prevented; with a weekend and the Fed stepping up to cover the market makers, trades and their markets slowly settled. I lost my job as a result with this crash. I had trouble being a broker because I had
problems selling investments that were not suited for clients.
I was just to go with the flow and not explain why an investment might be against a clients interest. Being in the market was really interesting and I would do it again just not as a retail salesman. I hope this post isn’t too boring or simple, please excuse me if I have forgotten stuff or my memory is vague.

Remember Bears make money, Bulls make money, Pigs get slaughtered.
posted by Rancid Badger at 1:39 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine was a stockbroker working on the Pacific Exchange, who got married and was on his honeymoon in Italy on the day of the 1987 event.

He and his wife didn't speak a word of Italian, so they were effectively cut off from any world news (which is exactly what you want on your honeymoon).

Except on the day after the crash, he picked up a local Italian newspaper and just scanned it, just to look at pictures. And there on the front page was some kind of a graph that compared two dates -- October 19th 2007 and October 29, 1929.

So, not really realizing what had happened, he called into the office, which was still in disarray, and he's on the phone going, "Say, I'm on vacation here in Tuscany. Did anything big happen in the market yesterday?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:59 PM on October 19, 2007

heh, I was working on a bond trading floor for the 1987 crash. People cheered when we beat -250 or so (the record at the time) and cheered at 300 too but after that got a little... scared.

it was interesting because the Quotron started up and there were *'s instead of prices. I asked my very knowledgeable boss and he told me that meant that no one was willing to make a market on the stocks... stocks like IBM.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:03 PM on October 19, 2007

"Say, I'm on vacation here in Tuscany. Did anything big happen in the market yesterday?" Papa, were would the office begin to explain what went on? Get a Wall Street Journal. and start calling clients? I would imagine that you would be so so stressed that the rest of the vacation would be a bust.

lupus it's really neat hearing what others experienced. I forgot about the Quotron, I didn't even remember the name. Were the bonds still liquid? Were you in NY or some other place? What kinda bonds were you trading and did you stay with the biz? I remember making trades on Aussie and Kiwi bonds, picking up on the depreciation of their currency against the dollar and the high interest (inflation?) rates of return on the bonds
posted by Rancid Badger at 8:31 PM on October 19, 2007

Hah, interesting questions!

I was writing option models for Drexel Burnham Lambert. Bonds went up hugely ("flight to quality") which is why all the bond traders were happy. I wasn't an actual trader but I worked on the desk a lot. I was in New York at the time.

One of our stock traders made the bad, bad mistake of buying a lot of stock about halfway through the fall and then talking to a reporter about it. He wasn't there the next day.

I have a lot of crazy stories about the place (I stopped doing that after a few years, I had a lot of ethical difficulties with it).

Pretty well everyone should know that an awful lot of these people are fakes -- they have no real understanding of risk whatsoever and, again and again, get into positions that make decent money most of the time but a small amount of the time suffer catastrophic losses that completely wipe out all the profits that their strategy has made.

Because the system is awash with cash, it's quite easy to make money just by being there and doing things which have no meaning. The Emperor's New Clothes is alive and well on Wall St and has been for at least 30 years.

The other thing that people should know is that it's impossible(*) for individuals to beat the market -- on the average. If some broker pretends that they can, they are lying. Your average portfolio manager, a trained and highly-paid professional, does as well on average as a random market basket, less the cost of commissions. And it's not that there are so many of them that they make up the average -- in fact, there is no(*) correlation between a manager's performance in one year and their performance in the next.

(* -- the actual study I'm quoting, which I can't find on the net but remember well, had to exclude 6 people, exactly 6 individuals out of the entire Wall St universe who seemed to be able to consistently predict the market. One of them was Warren Buffet. However, these 6 people will never ever give you or anyone you know stock tips :-D so my underlying argument still holds.)

One more story. All the government bond traders had done badly that year. It was bonus time and they all went to hear their bonuses and then slunk out. The long-bond trader (30 year) had done well though -- but when he went into the office they could hear shouting... and then he came out of the office screaming obscenities, picked up a chair and thrown it across the hall, and yelled, "I quit!"

Next day, he's back -- arms around Fred Joseph -- everything's fine. Word was they offered him a $1.5 million bonus; he refused it and quit; they offered him $2.5 million to come back.

(Of course, these days they give these fund managers $500 million bonuses! ((see my note about frauds above)) But that was a lot of money back then...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:24 AM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow lupus great stories and nice validation on the ethics too. Michael Milken was a trader at Drexel based in CA at this time?

Maybe I am dumb as a rock but having too much money seed to be as bad as having to little. Being rich and you never knew who was really a friend and who was a sycophant. Then there is making sure that it's enough.

Once had a broker call me into his office He proceeded to call an elderly woman as a client and "rearrange" her investments. He proceeded to sell her bonds at a loss, telling her that by taking a loss she was taking a tax gain, and then she would clean up on the new bonds she would buy from the proceeds of the bond she was selling at a loss Of course he had sold her the 1st set of bonds and made commis on 3 products. She actually believed she was making money! She was dim and he was predatory; really disillusioned me.

My wife (X) is still trying to make a fortune using voodoo technical charting on currency exchanges????

I buy antique paper and rare books; there is always a diminishing supply.
posted by Rancid Badger at 2:52 PM on October 20, 2007

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