February 9, 2018

More on “’Black Monday’: 30 Years Ago Today!”

Recently, in this blog, John did a great job bringing back memories of the 1987 stock market crash – the largest single day drop in Wall Street’s history. Here’s my own personal story about it:

I was in law school on a field trip to the Philadelphia Stock Exchange that day. The head of the Exchange spoke to us and started crying. He said that everyone in the building had lost millions. Being a pauper myself – and having had a few drinks with my law school buddies on the train up there – I couldn’t relate.

A year later, I was working at the SEC – and the agency sponsored a HUGE keg party for the “Market Break” anniversary at a local bar. I thought the SEC would be routinely sponsoring keg parties at bars. That was the last of them…

Here’s other stories of the ’87 crash from some old-timers:

– I was just an associate and, fortunately, did not have much money in the market. However, when I was leaving for the day, a senior corporate partner advised me, “Don’t walk too close to the buildings. There may be people jumping.” I believe he was serious.

– I had taken the day off to take my daughter (who was about 20 months old) to the Bronx zoo. Didn’t see a TV or a radio until I got home. My doorman said he was ruined and could never retire!

– I was in a drafting session for an IPO that was being led by Smith Barney and Needham & Co. Because this was before the days of mobile phones and other handheld devices – and before 24-hour cable financial news shows – the bankers would periodically walk out of the room to call back to their offices and find out how bad it was. Their faces grew longer as the day wore on. The company went public two years later.

– I was working on a leveraged ESOP deal as an ERISA lawyer in Charlotte. I had just signed the preceding Friday a contract for a house in the Hamptons. When I got back to NYC I rushed off the plane (with everyone else) to see if the world as we knew it had ended. The next day we backed out of the Hamptons contract, without taking any loss. And the next week, my wife and I decided that New York was going to get ugly, which it did. That was the start of our 3-month decision making process to change my specialty – and to move to Palo Alto. Funny how bad can turn into all things good.

– I had just entered private practice and was new to both doing deals and buying stocks in my meagerly funded retirement account. All day long frantic co-workers were announcing the next new market low, and as the public offering I was working on fell apart, I wondered who in the world was on the buy side of all those trades. When I got home that night, I collapsed onto my apartment sofa to watch the market news on TV and noticed that the light was blinking on my answering machine (one of those clunky tape recorders everyone connected to their telephones at the time). My sole message was from the broker handling my IRA, informing me that a limit order to buy a particular stock that I had placed nearly two months earlier and had since forgotten about had been executed that morning at $19 a share. The stock closed that day at just over $12. The whole experience was sobering.

– I had left the night before on a flight to Europe to close a stock-for-stock acquisition of a privately-held business for a public client. As the stock plummeted during the day, the seller refused to close. The client and I hung around for another day to see if it would recover, but ended up heading home when it did not. A few weeks later it had recovered enough to close.

Broc Romanek