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Why the most-recent selloff was just the beginning

Why the most-recent selloff was just the beginning

On October 19, 1987, the Dow experienced its biggest one-day percentage loss in history – plunging 22.6%.

The day will forever be known as “Black Monday.” The selloff was so fast and so severe, nothing else even comes close.

The second worst percentage loss for the Dow was October 28, 1929 (also Black Monday) when the exchange fell 12.82%. It fell another 11.73% the next day (you guessed it… “Black Tuesday”). Then the Great Depression hit.

A lot of people blame portfolio insurance for the severity of the market drop in 1987.

At the time, portfolio insurance had become a super popular product for the largest institutional investors. Portfolio insurance would “hedge” their portfolios by selling short S&P 500 futures (which profit when the market falls) when stocks fall by a certain amount. The idea was the gains from selling the S&P futures would offset the losses from the falling prices of the underlying portfolio.

If stocks fell more, the big investors would sell more futures.

The problem with portfolio insurance is it was programmatic. And when the losses inevitably came, it created a feedback loop. Selling begot selling.

But what initially ignited that selling back in 1987?

Matt Maley is a former Salomon Brothers executive who was on the trading floor for Black Monday. He shared his thoughts with CNBC last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the event.

Maley reminded us of the popularity of another strategy in those days – merger arbitrage. This was the time of Gordon Gekko, when corporate raiders would borrow tons of money – typically via high-yield bonds – to buy other firms.

Merger arbitrage is simply buying shares of the takeover candidate and shorting shares of the acquiring firm. It’s a speculative strategy that tries to capture the spread between the time the deal is announced and when it (hopefully) closes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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