What caused the stock market crash of 1929? The stock market crash 1929 is considered one of the worst economic events in world history. Many lost their entire life savings while banks and companies went bankrupt. While the crisis sent shock waves across the financial world, numerous signs that a stock market crash was coming. What exactly caused the stock market crash in 1929—and whether it could have been prevented- are some topics we will explore today.
Table of Contents
- What Exactly Caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929?
- Panic Made the Situation Worse
What Exactly Caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929?
The stock market crash of 1929 followed an epic period of economic growth. There was so much growth that we call this period the Roaring Twenties. In August of 1921, the DJIA was at 63 points.
Fast forward eight years and the DJIA increased an astonishing six-fold. At its peak, on September 3, 1929, it closed at a high of 381.17 points. September day marked the peak of the largest and greatest uninterrupted bull market the U.S. had ever seen. Many economists concluded, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
I must say, this sounds eerily familiar. Everyone is feeling confident. During this joyous time, unemployment levels were low. And the automobile industry was booming. Moreover, ordinary working folk became quite interested in the stock market.
Some financed their stock purchases through margin – a dangerous game if you’re not wise to the rules. What came next was almost incomprehensible. The DJIA’s fall from grace was swift and severe, sending the nation into an economic depression lasting over a decade.
Worst Economic Event in World History
I hate to say it, but Octobers in the stock market don’t have a great history. Thursday, October 24, 1929, marked the beginning of the worst economic event in world history. On “Black Monday” on October 28, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged nearly 13 percent. And by Black Tuesday”, the market fell another 12 percent.
As with many complex events, it isn’t easy to trace back to one root cause. However, several widely accepted theories exist of what caused the stock market crash in 1929.
Overconfidence in the Market
Due to reckless overconfidence, many economists believed stocks were wildly overpriced at the time and that a collapse was imminent. This overconfidence extended to people from all walks of life. It was evident from the extension of credit, irrespective of their financial situation.
This rising growth and consumer overconfidence led to an “asset bubble” lasting eight years. In perspective, the stock market increased by nearly 20 percent yearly from 1921 until 1929. As a result, there was access to easy credit.
With unprecedented access to bank credit and loans being handed out like candy, it was a recipe for disaster. People lived as if invincible, afraid of debt, and falsely reassured by the market’s so-called “stability.”
The margin extension allowed many who typically couldn’t buy on such a large scale to buy and buy large. Regular people could borrow money from their stockbroker with as little as 10 percent down.
The overconfidence we saw was not exclusive to the stock market. Manufacturing and agriculture jumped on the bandwagon, overproducing goods and crops. All this excess production leads to a surplus of supplies, driving their share prices down.
The Government Raised Interest Rates
In August 1929 – mere weeks before the crash, the Federal Reserve Bank raised interest rates one percent from 5 to 6. This sudden and steep one percent hike put the breaks on investor sentiment. In turn, the market became less stable, sharply reducing economic growth. Which of the courses affected more than the market?
As mentioned above, a surplus of crops and goods led to the Agricultural Recession. Farmers struggled to make an annual profit to keep their businesses afloat. Some believe this agricultural slump affected the financial climate of the country. Eventually, farmers underwent a crop failure, which marked the first signs of the Great Depression.
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Panic Made the Situation Worse
Days following the stock market crash of 1929 saw widespread public panic. People rushed in hoards to withdraw funds from their banks.
These so-called “bank runs” left many in shock as they could not withdraw their money. And the worst part is they couldn’t access their money because the bank executives had invested it in the market.
In a domino chain of events, we saw massive banking system failures, which worsened a dire financial situation. If you’ve ever watched It’s A Wonderful Life, then you saw it play out in that movie.
So many people lost everything. And they couldn’t pull their money from the banks. We can’t fathom that these days. Even with a crash, we can use credit cards to get by.
Media Played a Part in What Caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929
No surprise here.
Many experts claim that the press played a key role in the panic that spread like shockwaves throughout the United States. In all likelihood, this panic exacerbated the stock market crash of 1929.
For proof, look no further than the Washington Post headline that ran the day before Black Thursday:
“Huge Selling Wave Creates Near-Panic as Stocks Collapse.”
I’d be remiss not to mention The New York Times headline:
“Prices of Stocks Crash in Heavy Liquidation.”
What Actually Caused the Great Depression?
Undoubtedly, the crash was a catalyst to the Great Depression but not the sole driver. I believe it was one of the triggers that burst the bubble and started a downward devastating economic crisis. The stock market bubble burst left a mark that plagued the U.S. economy for many years after 1929.
“The stock market crash of 1929 was a cause, but not the sole driver, of the Great Depression.”
Final Thoughts: What Caused the Stock Market Crash of 1929?
What caused the stock market crash of 1929? Most economists agree that there was no single cause of the stock market crash in 1929. However, a soaring, on-fire economy destined to one day fall likely played a significant role. While historians sometimes debate whether the stock market crash 1929 directly caused the Great Depression, there’s no doubt that it greatly affected the American economy for many years.
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