Black Monday, October 1987

What caused the Black Monday crash of 1987? Analysts are often unable to identify a single trigger or smoking gun that caused the crash.

Sniper points to a sharp run-up in short-term interest rates in the 3 months prior to the crash.

3 Month Treasury Bill Rates

Valuations were also at extreme readings, with PEmax (price-earnings based on the highest earnings to-date) near 20, close to its Black Friday high from the crash of 1929.

S&P 500 PEmax 1919 - 1989

Often overlooked is the fact that the S&P 500 was testing resistance at its previous highs between 700 and 750 from the 1960s and 70s (chart from macrotrends).

S&P 500 1960 - 1990

A combination of these three factors may have been sufficient to tip the market into a dramatic reversal.

Are we facing a similar threat today?

Short-term rates are rising but at 40 basis points over the last 4 months, compared to 170 bp in 1987, there is not much cause for concern.

13-week T-Bill rates

PEmax, however, is now at a precipitous 26.8, second only to the Dotcom bubble of 1999/2000.

S&P 500 PEmax 1980 - 2017

While the index is in blue sky territory, with no resistance in sight, there is an important psychological barrier ahead at 3000.

S&P 500

Conclusion: This does not look like a repetition of 1987. But investors who ignore the extreme valuation warning may be surprised at how fast the market can reverse (as in 1987) from such extremes.

The disconnect between long-term and short-term rates

Bob Doll highlighted the disconnect between long-term and short-term rates in his latest review. The chart below plots the 3-month T-bill rate against 10-year Treasury yields.

Spot Gold/Light Crude

At this stage, the disconnect is not significant. But a disconnect as in 2004 – 2005 is far more serious. Large Chinese purchases of Treasuries prevented long-term rates from rising in response to Fed tightening, limiting the Fed’s ability to contain the housing bubble.