The 1929 Stock Market Crash
The 1920s saw strong economic growth, and a 9-year bull market peaked on September 3, 1929. The era included easy credit, expanding prosperity, materialism, and a liberalizing lifestyle. Faster speed, bigger shows, taller structures, looser morality, and cheaper alcohol. The Liberty Loan Act of 1917 permitted the US to issue Liberty Bonds for WWI. Bonds were retired after the war. Buying bonds was seen as a patriotic duty and gave many Americans their first taste of government-backed securities, a concept formerly reserved for wealthy businessmen. The Fed kept interest rates low to boost post-war European ally investment. Low-interest times cheapened money. In the flourishing 1920s securities markets, the public could hold greater margin positions. In 1928, President Herbert Hoover said the US was so wealthy it was erasing poverty, a claim that always coincides with bubbles. During exuberant times, charlatans exploit the population. Charles Ponzi began his fraud in 1920. Bogus bucket shops let clients trade publicly listed shares. Bucket shops marketed inexpensive, high-margin shares. In margin frauds, $1 bought $100 in shares. Bucket stores didn’t trade with customers. This allowed bucket shops to act as a casino, paper trading positions and paying out withdrawals from other clients’ deposits while collecting interest on margin positions and liquidating clients on margin calls. 1920s bucket stores are like bitcoin exchanges today. American stocks received 60% of 1929 financing. New York banks introduced managed trusts as investments. These trusts, which many buyers bought on margin, leveraged their assets to take holdings in other trusts, producing geometrically rising debt that increased rewards and risk. People began chatting about the market as newspapers featured financial advice and investment ideas. Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. warned, “Stay out of the market if shoe shiners start giving stock tips.” Irving Fisher, who declared stock prices have struck “a persistently high peak,” was overly enthusiastic. Soon after, corporate scandals and pessimistic expert judgments eroded public trust in the markets. In 1929-1932, stocks lost $500 billion. London experienced the Americas’ market turbulence. Many historians blame Europe’s rapid economic decline to its reliance on the gold standard. 1929 stock market shocks forced 10,000 American banks to fail, leaving Americans without finances and cures. After the crisis, the U.S. government reduced excessive risk and opaque institutions that produced financial instability and public distrust. The Percoa Commission found evidence that sellers of investments misled customers in several transactions leading up to the market crash. The law punished brokers and directors who misrepresented firm information. The Securities Act of 1933 formed the SEC to regulate investment contracts in the U.S. Post-regulatory era saw even greater bull markets, and the post-war market returned to new highs as New Deal market reforms boosted consumer trust.