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The Stock Market Crashes

Nearly everyone these days is concerned with two vital questions; i.e. how severe will the U.S. economic downturn ultimately prove to be and how long will it last?

For good reason there's serious concern that the downturn we're experiencing will become something worse than the largest recession of the post-World War II period - which occurred in 1982, when real per-capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 3% and unemployment peaked at close to 11%. That "something worse" is, of course, the specter that overtook the U.S. in 1929.

The nation's first real capital-P panic, if not actually a stock market crash, occurred during the period of 1835 to 1843 due to falling land prices, the usual over-expansion of credit, and the bursting of the canal-building bubble. Twenty-some years later the end of the War Between the States led to deflation while still later railroad wars, conflicting and deleterious laws regarding silver, and the Baring Crisis bearishly rang in the new century.

One professor of economics uses long-term data from many countries, as well as taking into account the historical linkages between depressions and stock-market crashes, to estimate how far this particular snowball is likely to roll.

The bottom line is that there is sufficient reason to worry about the current recession sliding into a depression. There is a roughly one-in-five chance that U.S. GDP and consumption will fall by more than 10%, something not seen since the early 1930s.

Research identifies just two such U.S. events since 1870: the Great Depression from 1929 to 1933, with a macroeconomic decline of 25%, and the post-World War I years from 1917 to 1921, with a fall of more than 16%.

Illuminating data from around the world revealing 251 total stock-market crashes and 97 depressions shows that in 71 cases the timing of a stock market crash matched that of a depression. For example, Finland had a stock-market crash of 47% for 1989-91 and a macroeconomic fall of 13% for 1989-93. In 30 cases where there were both crashes and depressions, these were also associated with wars.

While there is no numerically specific definition of a crash, the term universally applies to steep double-digit percentage losses in a stock market index over a period of several days.

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