A drastic, often unforeseen, drop in the prices of stocks in the stock market
Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets.
A stock market crash refers to a drastic, often unforeseen, drop in the prices of stocks in the stock market. The sudden drop in stock prices may be influenced by economic conditions, catastrophic event(s), or speculative elements that sweep across the market.
Most flash crashes are usually short bursts of market downturns that can last for a single day or much longer to bring investors heavy losses. Historical examples of stock market crashes include the 1929 stock market crash, 1987 October stock market crash, and the 2020 COVID-19 stock market crash.
A stock market crash occurs when the market has entered an unstable phase, and an economic disturbance causes share prices to fall suddenly and unexpectedly.
Historical stock market crashes in the U.S. occurred in 1929, 1987, 1999-2000, 2008, and 2020.
Following a stock market crash, panic trading can be prevented by triggering market-wide circuit breakers or adopting plunge protection.
Understanding Market Crashes
There is no conventional way of describing a market crash, but the term commonly applies to an abrupt decline in the stock market index over a single or several days. Stock market crashes have severe effects on the economy and investors’ behavior. Essentially, the overall economy of a country depends on its stock market.
A country’s stock market trend becomes the main focus when investors intend to invest. The most common ways investors are bound to lose their money in the event of a stock market collapse is when they sell shares following a sudden drop in market prices after having purchased many shares before a market crash. Consequently, a market crash causes stock market investors to incur significant losses in their portfolios.
Records of Stock Market Crashes
A commonly referenced market bubble and subsequent market crash can be traced back to the Republic of the Netherlands between 1585 and 1650, when contract prices for fashionable tulips increased to exceptionally high levels. The beautiful colors and scarcity of tulips created extremely high demand among society’s upper class.
The intricacies of the cultivation process kept supplies low and turned the tulips into a coveted luxury item. .
As the frenzy continued, more people including the Dutch middle class and speculators from other countries quickly began to invest in the tulip business. They mortgaged their businesses and properties to trade in tulips. However, when prices peaked, and then quickly collapsed due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague, it caught speculators off guard, who initially assumed that the craze would last forever. The unexpected market collapse sent the whole Dutch economy into a depression.
Famous Stock Market Crashes in the U.S.
The U.S. experienced a fair share of stock market crashes in the past, including:
The Great Depression Crash of October 1929
This was the first major U.S. market crash, where speculations caused share prices to skyrocket. There was a growing interest in commodities such as autos and homes. Unsophisticated investors flooded the market, driving up prices in a panic buying mode. Many eventually slid into bankruptcy when the market bubble popped.
The Black Monday Crash of October 1987
The October 1987 market crash became known as Black Monday and is attributed to computer trading, derivative securities, over-evaluation, illiquidity, and trade and budget deficits. As a result of the crash, major market valuation indexes in the U.S. declined by at least 30%.
The Dot-com Crash of 2000-2001
As with the Crash of October 1987, the 2000 dot-com market collapse was triggered by technology stocks. Investors’ interest in internet related companies increased to a frenzied level following massive growth and adoption of the internet. Many start-up companies were able to raise millions of dollars going public via IPO’s with only a business idea. Eventually, many of these companies burnt through all of their capital and stock prices of other technology companies collapsed.
Stock Market Crash of 2007/08
The 2007/08 stock market crash was triggered by the collapse of mortgage-backed securities in the housing sector. High frequency of speculative trading caused the securities rise and decline in value as housing prices receded. With most homeowners unable to meet their debt obligations, financial institutions slid into bankruptcy, causing the Great Recession.
The COVID Crash of March 2020
The market collapse in March 2020 was caused by the government’s reaction to the Novel COVID-19 outbreak, a rapidly spreading coronavirus around the world. The pandemic impacted many sectors worldwide, including healthcare, natural gas, food, and software. The unemployment rate skyrocketed in the first quarter of 2020.
How to Prevent a Stock Market Crash
During stock market crises, panicked stockholders tend to panic sell their assets to cushion themselves from further losses. Several stock market safeguards are in place to curb heavy losses that occur due to panic trading. Some of the actions include the following:
1. Circuit Breakers
Current guidelines by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandate market-wide a 15-minute pause in trading in certain situations, in the hopes the market will calm. The circuit-breaker activates when the S&P 500 falls more than 7% at any time before 3:45 p.m. EST.
The circuit breakers are triggered to stop trading as it gets more volatile. Levels 1 and 2 market-wide circuit breakers suspend trading for 15 minutes, while level 3 halts trading for the rest of the day.
2. Plunge Protection
Turbulent markets can also be dampened by the purchase of massive quantities of stocks by large entities when prices drop. By so doing, established entities hold prices up to prevent individual traders from panic trading. This method is limited in its effectiveness.
Thank you for reading CFI’s guide on Stock Market Crash. To keep advancing your career, the additional CFI resources below will be useful:
Take your learning and productivity to the next level with our Premium Templates.
Upgrading to a paid membership gives you access to our extensive collection of plug-and-play Templates designed to power your performance—as well as CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs.
Already have a Self-Study or Full-Immersion membership? Log in
Access Exclusive Templates
Gain unlimited access to more than 250 productivity Templates, CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs, hundreds of resources, expert reviews and support, the chance to work with real-world finance and research tools, and more.