The definitive account of the crash of 1987, a cautionary tale of how the U.S. financial system nearly collapsed--from the bestselling author of The Wizard of Lies
Monday, October 19, 1987, was by far the worst day in Wall Street history. The market fell 22.6 percent – almost twice as bad as the worst day of 1929 – equal to a one-day loss of nearly 5,000 points today.
Black Monday was more than seven years in the making and threatened nearly every U.S. financial institution. Drawing on superlative archival research and dozens of original interviews Diana B. Henriques weaves a tale of missed opportunities, market delusions, and destructive actions that stretched from the “silver crisis” of 1980 to turf battles in Washington, a poisonous rivalry between the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the almost-fatal success of two California professors whose idea for reducing market risk spun terribly out of control. As the story hurtles forward, the players struggle to forestall a looming market meltdown and unexpected heroes step in to avert total disaster.
For thirty years, investors, regulators, and bankers have failed to heed the lessons of 1987, even as the same patterns have resurfaced, most spectacularly in the financial crisis of 2008. A First-Class Catastrophe offers a new way of looking not only at the past, but at our financial future as well.
Henriques (The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust) turns the clock back to Oct. 19, 1987, a date better known as "Black Monday," when the Dow Jones plummeted 508 points 22.6% of the market at the time. Her report begins with the 1980 crisis in silver trading and then moves quickly onto the financial-futures markets, (the introduction of which "fundamentally changed the way the traditional stock market worked") and continues with the rise of institutional investors and introduction of innovations such as computerized program trading. The SEC and other regulatory agencies, meanwhile, are shown to be "poorly equipped, ridiculously fragmented, technologically naive, and fatally focused on protecting turf rather than safeguarding the overall market's internal machinery." Henriques's confident, fast-paced, and thoroughly researched narrative also features plain-English explanations of relevant jargon and insightful profiles of the investors, regulators, and economists on the crash's front lines. Thanks to Henriques's attention to detail, her book stands as an irrefutable argument against efficient-market theory which understands stock-market performance as fundamentally the result of "rational and well-informed decisions" and for wiser regulation of U.S. financial markets. It's a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why financial markets lurch from crisis to crisis and are still so frighteningly susceptible to crashes today.