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Crash Remembrances

On Friday over at RealMoney, I posted the following:

David Merkel
1987 Memories
10/19/2007 5:20 PM EDT

I was a young actuary when the crash hit in 1987, one year and change into my career. I did not have any investments at that time, but I had just bought a house with my (then) new wife. Few today remember that the crash of 1987 was the culmination of three separate crashes. In late 1986, the US Dollar hit new lows, amid massive intervention by central banks. In February 2007, I came down with a bad cold that sidelined me for four days. Cuddled up with the WSJ while my wife was at work, I concluded that the bond market was about to fall apart, so we accelerated buying a small home. Two months after we completed the financing, mortgage yields rose by 2% during the bond market meltdown.

The stock market roared on, though. Through August, the market rose, and the earnings yield shrank. Bond yields remained stubbornly high; it was a great time to invest in high quality long bonds, particularly long zero coupon bonds.

The eventual crash in October is no surprise to me today. Equities could not stand the competition from bonds, so the market slumped from August to October, until the pressure of dynamic hedging took over starting on Friday the 16th, selling into a declining market in order to maintain the hedges, and spilling over in a self-reinforcing way on the 19th. For what it is worth, there was a humongous rally in long bonds as people sought safety.

Now, my Mom was buying the day after the crash. This is why she is more professional than most professionals I know. She bought solid companies that would survive bad times. I knew far more people who sold into the panic. As for me, I got a trial subscription to Value Line, and picked six stocks, which I sold too soon for a 20% gain, and didn’t return to direct investment in single equities until 1992. (I used mutual funds.)

Since then, I have been consistent in plying my advantage in picking cheap stocks where the fundamentals are under-discounted. It’s been a good niche for me, maybe it can be of value to you as well.

PS — no bounce today, kinda like October 16th, 1987.

Position: none

Now, should the crash have been bought? Yes, at least in the short run, even without knowing the verdict of history. The difference between stock and bond yields narrowed dramatically, and option implied volatility was making a bold effort to escape earth orbit. Beyond that, fast moves tend to mean revert; slow moves tend to persist.
Now, my knowledge of the markets was rather crude back in 1987, so I never would have caught those then; nor did most commentators at the time. People were too scared to be rational. Even the FOMC blinked, with a neophyte Greenspan, with no serious crisis imminent, thus beginning his career of throwing liquidity at small problems, and leaving the consequences for later.

Well, at least I bought the lows in 2002. That event was similar, but not nearly as short-run severe as 1987, though it had the “strength” of longer duration as a bear market.

Before I close for the evening, I would like to mention that I will have the portfolio reshaping complete on Monday, and watch for it here first. As an aside, there are a lot of cheap small cap shoe retailers, and a lot of cheap general and apparel retailers also. I don’t normally buy retailers, but this time things are too cheap. Expect to see me buy one.

Bonds, Currencies, Fed Policy, Macroeconomics, Portfolio Management, Stocks, Value Investing | RSS 2.0 |

2 Responses to Crash Remembrances

  1. Brent says:

    I know it’s not one David follows very closely, but American National Insurance (ANAT) reported earnings today and they were excellent – see

    The key that others may be interested in is that investment gains were up from $0.17 per share to $0.83 per share. I am constantly watching the insurance companies for signs of earnings hits being taken due to subprime, etc., but the good news is that nothing is showing up here.

  2. the market rallied immediately after the crash, posting a record one-day gain of 102.27 the very next day and 186.64 points on Thursday October 22. It took only two years for the Dow to recover completely; by September of 1989, the market had regained all of the value it had lost in the ’87 crash. Where to this time


David Merkel is an investment professional, and like every investment professional, he makes mistakes. David encourages you to do your own independent "due diligence" on any idea that he talks about, because he could be wrong. Nothing written here, at RealMoney, Wall Street All-Stars, or anywhere else David may write is an invitation to buy or sell any particular security; at most, David is handing out educated guesses as to what the markets may do. David is fond of saying, "The markets always find a new way to make a fool out of you," and so he encourages caution in investing. Risk control wins the game in the long run, not bold moves. Even the best strategies of the past fail, sometimes spectacularly, when you least expect it. David is not immune to that, so please understand that any past success of his will be probably be followed by failures.

Also, though David runs Aleph Investments, LLC, this blog is not a part of that business. This blog exists to educate investors, and give something back. It is not intended as advertisement for Aleph Investments; David is not soliciting business through it. When David, or a client of David's has an interest in a security mentioned, full disclosure will be given, as has been past practice for all that David does on the web. Disclosure is the breakfast of champions.

Additionally, David may occasionally write about accounting, actuarial, insurance, and tax topics, but nothing written here, at RealMoney, or anywhere else is meant to be formal "advice" in those areas. Consult a reputable professional in those areas to get personal, tailored advice that meets the specialized needs that David can have no knowledge of.

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