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Deja Vu

October 19, 2012

Trading Down


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2012: Investors panic after an alleged printer mishap released Google's less-than-thrilling earnings report hours ahead of schedule. The search engine's market value dropped by nearly 20 billion dollars on Thursday morning—the numbers were released just as the market was opening for the day, causing widespread panic among brokers and stockholders. Google's top brass tried to reassure the press that all was well, though financial analysts still express concern. The Daily reports:

“I’m sorry for our scramble earlier today,” Google CEO Larry Page told investors on an evening conference call. “As our printers have said, they hit ‘Send’ just a bit early.”

But the numbers weren’t encouraging. The firm posted $2.18 billion in net income, down from $2.73 billion in the year-earlier period, a 20 percent drop. Excluding certain items, the profit represented $9.03 per share, far below average estimates of $10.65 per share.

Most notably, Google collected less money per click, on average, an important metric likely softened by a proliferation of less lucrative mobile users. Its average cost-per-click was 15 percent below its year-earlier level, as advertisers paid far less for taps on phones and tablets than they did for mouse clicks.

1987: On October 19, the stock market lost nearly one trillion dollars in 24 hours, causing worldwide panic and setting off a series of events that would lead to an eventual recession. Black Monday, as the day has come to be known, shook even the most seasoned veterans of the New York stock market:

Mike Earlywine, 47, a hedge-fund trader at Ecofin Ltd. whose first job was as a clerk at Salomon Brothers Inc. in New York, witnessed the magnitude of the 1987 plunge on the streets of New York’s financial district.

“We walked out to the exchange and literally people were spilling out,” Earlywine said. “You’re standing there in the street on the sidewalk and people were coming out of the exits and falling over, and guys were literally weeping into guys’ shoulders saying, ‘It’s gone, it’s all gone.’ One guy with tears streaming down his face is trying to comfort the other who’s also got tears on his face.”

The onslaught of selling almost capsized U.S. markets on Oct. 20 and led regulators to eventually adopt coordinated halts across stocks and futures markets to prevent a recurrence, according to David Ruder, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1987.

“The most frightening part of that whole week was the thought that the NYSE might have to close because it did not have sufficient demand.”
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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