Now, the IMF has described this as the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression in 1929.
I think we would all agree.
A reasonable question to ask is why banks and dealers, as well as investors, never learn from previous financial crisis. If you look back over the past 150 years, booms and busts and financial crises occur with depressing regularity – almost like clockwork.
Ton Fell often said, if your country hasn’t had a banking or financial crisis in the past decade, just wait – one will be coming shortly.
There was a major banking crisis in the U.S. in the late 1870s following an incredible railroad boom. The U.S. Federal Reserve was created in 1913 following a series of bank crises and runs on deposits.
And then, of course, we had the stock market crash in 1929 and the Depression. This was followed in 1934 by the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in the U.S. to protect depositors and the Securities and Exchange Commission to protect investors.
Crises over the last seventy-years have been less severe, although I can tell you they seemed, and were, very serious at the time.
The LDC banking crisis in 1982 – the Canadian Bank Stock Index fell by 42%.
The U.S. Savings & Loan crisis in the late 1980s when 2,000 S & Ls went out of business – U.S. bank shares fell by 45%.
Until now, the all time high water mark for massive market and business excesses in living memory was the breaking of the Japanese bubble in 1989. While this crisis was confined to Japan, it is the second largest economy in the world so it was big.
This was a triple whammy. A stock market bubble, a banking bubble and real estate bubble all wrapped up in one. When the bubble burst many banks and insurance companies were forced to merge, restructure or were bailed out by the government. The Japanese bank stock index topped out just after Christmas 1989 and dropped by 45% in just the first year but eventually declined by 91%.
(I call that a bear market)
It is of interest that, even now, the overall Japanese stock market, as measured by the Nikkei Dow, is 80% below where it was twenty years ago. The Japanese crisis lasted more than a decade and total losses were estimated at about $750 billion.
Finally, in the late 1990s we had the incredible telecom and internet bubble which broke in 2000. We can all remember this - you know, when Nortel had a market cap of over $350 billion.
The late 1990s was a period of wild investor hysteria.
It was a true feeding frenzy with the Nasdaq tripling in less than two years and IPOs doubling and tripling on the first day of trading.
As always, the bubble broke, the Nasdaq Stock Index declined by 77% over the next three years with the bankruptcy of Enron, Worldcom being two of the biggest in American history.
That crisis brought us Sarbanes-Oxley.
When you look back on all these cycles, a central question is “why do we have to go through constantly recurring market and business bubbles.
Kindleberger, the late MIT historian, is well known for his 1978 book “Manias, Panics and Crashes” which traces four centuries of booms and busts.
Cycle after cycle the similarities are striking. It all gets back to;
- over-optimism and herd mentality
- greed in the financial business
- excessive leverage
- borrowing short and lending long
- flawed financial innovation and
- regulatory failure
(usually all wrapped up with a good dollop of fraud and corruption)
Those who don’t learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them and that’s why we are here again – one more time.