If you have a bit of the jitters after the recent upheaval in the stock market, you’re in good company. Many investors and analysts were concerned after the stock market’s volatile week. All of this recent talk about inflation has investors spooked as well. What about Bitcoin? Even as more businesses are starting to use the cryptocurrency, there’s more and more talk of its volatile price swings looking like the DOT-COM bubble, right before it burst.
So, what should investors take away from all the recent economic uncertainty? One way to figure out how to prepare for the next economic crisis is to look to the past, as the United States has endured many economic challenges over the past few decades. Let’s see what those previous economic crises looked like, and how they affected the American public.
The Subprime Mortgage Crisis (2007-2010)
The United States housing market crashed in 2007, creating an economic crisis that led to a much wider and more severe recession. The collapse of the housing market occurred for a variety of reasons. Housing experienced a “bubble,” where rapidly increasing real estate prices led many investors to speculate in the hopes of short term profits. Loosely regulated lenders provided billions of high-risk, subprime loans to borrowers, who subsequently defaulted when home prices plummeted. The housing collapse exacerbated a wider recession, which led to high unemployment, the loss of over nine million jobs, and a steep decline of net worth in the country. The crisis also led to a greater regulation of the mortgage lending industry as well.
The 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo
In 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), in a protest of U.S. foreign policy, halted oil exports and hiked prices. Gas prices soared by over 40% and the fuel shortages created a panic in the United States. At one point, nearly 20% of U.S. gas stations ran out of fuel. Different rationing systems were put in place and, at times, consumer tension over fuel availability led to violence. The crisis also spurred the United States and other nations to consider greater energy conservation and exploration efforts, as well as a pursuit of alternative energy sources, which continues to this day. The oil crisis ended in 1974 after the oil embargo was lifted.
The Great Inflation of the 1970s
The cost of the Vietnam War, along with much higher government spending due to President Johnson’s “Great Society,” and rapidly changing monetary policies all contributed to high inflation throughout the 1970s. Crises such as the 1973 OPEC oil embargo further exacerbated inflation in the United States, leading to higher and higher prices on consumer goods. Interest rates throughout this period were often in the double digits, which affected consumers’ ability to make important purchases, such as cars or homes. The cumulative effect of The Great Inflation hobbled the American economy throughout the 1970s, at times contributing to poor job growth and unemployment, and even political volatility. This crisis did not end until the early 1980s, as central banks began focusing on effective measures to increase price stability.
The Dot-Com Bubble 1997-2001
In the late 1990s, as Internet use was becoming ubiquitous in the United States, tech companies were on fire. Venture capitalists were pouring billions into the tech industry, and investors were buying up all the techs stocks they could get their hands on. Many of the tech companies had challenges monetizing their products or services effectively, leading them to shut down when they ran out of funding. When it became apparent that many tech companies were overvalued, the bubble burst. Investors lost billions; the NASDAQ composite declined over 75% as the dot-com fever broke.
Black Monday (1987)
On October 19, 1987, stock markets around the world crashed suddenly, shedding an immense amount of value in a short period. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly 23% of its value, and some foreign exchanges fared even worse. The event is now referred to as Black Monday. The crash has been blamed on a wide variety of factors, including overreliance on computer trading programs as well as market psychology. Some investors lost their life savings because of this abrupt crash, while it affected other investors’ retirement plans. The markets did recover relatively quickly, and some reforms came about to prevent computer trading from causing another crash like this one.
Looking to the future
Past economic crises are not an effective predictor of future economic challenges. However, studying past economic crises can help you understand how they affected American consumers and investors. You may be able to develop a means to mitigate their effects, too, things like budgeting and saving up in an emergency fund. So, take the time to study a little bit of economic history; it may serve you well the next time the American economy hits a bump in the road.