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The Financial Page Greasing the Slide

New Yorker – “Death by a thousand cuts.” “Fire-sale liquidation.” “A vortex of selling.” No matter how people described the market collapse that hit a month ago, the message was the same: it felt like there was nowhere to go but down, and it felt like we’d be going there forever. (Given last week’s dip, it still does.)

Beginning on September 29th, the U.S. stock market fell on nine of the next ten trading days, plummeting twenty-six per cent; then, after a short, sharp rally, it lost ten per cent more in less than two days.

Explanations for the crash often focussed on the hysteria and panic that periodically seem to seize investors. But the madness of crowds wasn’t the whole story. In a healthy market, there are countercyclical forces—mechanisms and institutions that go against the general market trend and encourage diversity of thinking—that make it harder for feedback loops and vicious cycles to take hold. Lately, though, many of these institutions and mechanisms have become procyclical: instead of countering trends, they amplify them.

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