The One Lesson To Learn Before A Market Crash

Look back to the 2007-2009 market collapse, and you’ll notice something. Despite repeated monetary and fiscal interventions, a positive shift in market internals didn’t happen until March-April 2009. In hindsight, it was none of those interventions that produced the shift, but instead the change in accounting rule FAS 157 in the second week of March 2009 that finally ended the collapse. That accounting change eliminated the “mark-to-market” rule that had required banks to report the value of their assets at market value, and instead allowed banks considerable discretion to choose the value at which those assets were reported. With the stroke of a pen, banks that were insolvent on a mark-to-market basis became whole on a mark-to-model basis. In hindsight, regulatory authorities used that change to abandon any further action that might have put those insolvent banks and financial institutions into receivership or conservatorship. In the end, it was not monetary easing, nor troubled-asset relief, that ended the collapse. It was a change in accounting rules.


A similar failure of memory seems to prevail when the media incorrectly suggests that the collapse of the market in 2008 began with the Lehman bankruptcy on September 15. The fact is that the market fully recovered to even higher levels the following week as the government banned short selling of financial stocks (much like China is doing more broadly at present). Weeks later, in a wicked case of “sell the news,” the actual collapse started literally 15 seconds after the TARP bailout was passed by Congress. Investors want to tie market outcomes to very specific events or catalysts. But history suggests a different lesson: once extreme valuations are joined by a shift toward risk-aversion among investors, the specific events become irrelevant. One way or another, the market is likely to get hit by a

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