Financial journalist Henriques (The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, 2011, etc.) turns her gaze on the catastrophic Wall Street collapse of 1987, “the contagious crisis that the system nearly didn’t survive.”
The crash of 1929 was miserable, the dot-com bubble burst of 2000 inconvenient, and the financial collapse of 2008 frightening. All these pale, however, to the events of Oct. 19, 1987, Black Monday, a one-day decline of 22.6 percent. To reach the same level today, writes the author, the Dow Jones would have to fall by 5,000 points. As Henriques writes, it was a perfect storm of allied causes, all of them ones that would ring true to cautious investors today: the financial firms had become too big, certainly too big to fail, while computer-mediated trades and other flashy innovations placed the exchange beyond immediate human reach. As bad or worse, the same ideology, the same set of academic theories, was driving Wall Street, leading to a monoculture of investment that was ripe to fail from the start. The author, a longtime New York Times writer and winner of the George Polk Award, delivers an account that is not for the financially naïve or the innumerate; a typical passage reads, “unfortunately, there were CBOE limits on how many options any one investor could hold at one time, and LOR was already ‘insuring’ accounts too large to fit easily within those limits.” Those who can read past the financial wonkiness, though, will be well-served by Henriques’ insights into the ascent of the quants and the concentration of big capital into fewer and fewer hands—trends that, she notes, continue to accelerate as investment strategies become “even more obscure.”
Solid economic reportage. Investors who remember the events of 30 years ago will blanch all over again, especially at the author’s suggestion that worse may be yet to come.