Yesterday, I published Staying Calm Through The Recent Big Fall In Stocks. In the article, I shared how US stocks fell by a stunning 20.5% in one day on 19 October 1987. This event is now infamously known as Black Monday.
I used Black Monday as an example to show that incredibly sharp short-term declines have happened in the past. Yet, US businesses and the stock market as a whole have continued growing significantly. I thought Black Monday was an apt example, given the current climate – on Monday night (9 March 2020), US stocks declined by 7.6%.
In Staying Calm Through The Recent Big Fall In Stocks, I wrote that “when Black Monday occurred, it was likely an extremely stressful time for investors.” I could not find any data or anecdotes to illustrate how investors must have felt back then. As the market gods would have it, I just found one.
Ben Carlson once received a message from a reader who experienced Black Monday. Carlson is the Director of Institutional Asset Management at Ritholtz Wealth Management who blogs at A Wealth of Common Sense. This is what the reader wrote to him (italics are mine):
“As one who was actually invested in 1987 (and since 1973), I still have vivid memories of that market crash. It is oh-so-easy to look today at a long-term chart having a tiny blip and say “So what! . . . of course the market recovered . . . those who sold were fools.”
In 1987, market news was nothing like it is today. We had no Internet. We had the next day’s WSJ [Wall Street Journal] and Friday’s 30-minute Lou Rukeyser’s Wall Street Week; we subscribed to a few stock newsletters (delivered by snail mail) and Kiplinger and Money magazines . . . that’s about it.
Therefore, though I heard about the crash on the radio as I drove home from work on Black Monday, I was not prepared to find my wife in tears . . . her first words were “You’ve lost our retirement!” (Reading it does not convey the impact of hearing it.)
In real time, the crash was a VERY big event. Fear for a changed future was the natural response. Talking heads were saying “This worldwide event could last for years; our children will have a lower standard of living than we have.”
Long story short— she insisted we sell everything the next day (which was also a significant down day); we eventually re-entered the market.”
I can’t prove it, but I guarantee that many investors are today having similar thoughts as what I highlighted in the quote above. It was fortunate that Carlson’s reader eventually re-entered the market. Black Monday turned out to only be a painful blip in the short run (see chart below). From 13 October 1987 (before Black Monday happened, meaning stocks were at a higher price than after the 19 October 1987 crash) to 9 March 2020, the S&P 500 increased by 773% in total, or 6.9% per year. With dividends, the S&P 500 was up by around 2,100%, or 10.0% annually, according to data from Robert Shiller.
Black Monday was monumental for those who lived through it. But if those investors had the courage to stay invested, they would have been amply rewarded.
What we experienced on Monday night and for the past few weeks, feels similar to what Carlson’s reader described. But I also think the chances are very high that in five, 10, and 20 years from now, we will look back on our experiences in the past few weeks and think “What a time it was to live through. But I’m glad I stuck with stocks for the long haul!”
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Note: An earlier version of this article was published at The Good Investors, a personal blog run by our friends.