Today the financial markets paid their respects by closing in reverence of former U.S. president and World War II veteran George H. W. Bush, who passed away November 30th at the age of 94. His death comes roughly eight months after that of his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush. In addition to the NYSE and Nasdaq shutdowns for equities, CME Group announced the closure of its U.S. equity and interest rate futures and options products and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) recommended bond markets halt as well.
Although the death of a national leader is an infrequent occurrence, it is typical for markets to close in memorial for those lost. The last three times occurred on January 2, 2007 for Gerald Ford, June 11, 2004 for Ronald Regan, and April 27, 1994 for Richard Nixon. In fact, unexpected stock market closures have occurred countless times over the years for a whole host of reasons.
Before we go on, however, I want to make a quick distinction between closures caused by external world events and those caused strictly by trading volatility. For instance, stock markets have circuit breakers – electronic guardrails that halt trading during dramatic single-day drops in the S&P 500 Index, charging price surges of individual securities or funds in a 5-minute period, etc. Let’s say the S&P 500 has a really rough day – circuit breakers will temporarily halt trading in the following manners:
For our purposes though, we’ll simply be looking at the “externally”-caused closures – some more surprising than others.
The Good, the Bad, and the Squirrels
Yep, you read that correctly: squirrels. But I’ll come back to that in a moment. Let’s start off with some of the more exciting reasons why the stock market has halted trading.
- Charles Lindbergh’s Inaugural Trans-Atlantic Flight
On June 13, 1927 the NYSE closed its doors to honor Lindbergh’s maiden, non-stop flight from New York to Paris – a historic day for avionics.
- Apollo 11 Moon Landing
President Nixon decided to give the entire country a day off as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took “…one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” during the first ever moon landing.
Indeed, those moments are in the American record books – but market closures also characterize dates of trying and serious times.
- World War I
Following conflicts that began in June 1914, the NYSE closed in anticipation of war from July to December of that year.
- The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
On the day of the shooting, November 22, 1963, the NYSE closed early and remained closed the next day to acknowledge the president’s funeral.
- The “Paperwork Crisis” of 1968
In the late 1960s, trading volume had increased dramatically – so much so that the NYSE had roughly $4 billion in unprocessed transaction. The exchange closed every Wednesday between June 12 and December 31 of 1968 just to catch up!
- 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
The NYSE’s 9:30am opening bell never rang on September 11, 2001 as just half a mile away, two planes collided with the World Trade Center towers about 30 minutes earlier. The markets did not reopen until 6 days later on September 17. A year later, the exchange opened two minutes late in honor of the event.
- Hurricane Sandy
From October 29-30, 2012, the NYSE halted operations as Hurricane Sandy came ashore – pummeling areas of New Jersey and New York. It was the first weather-related closing since Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
As a follow-up to these melancholy moments, I hope to turn around and end on a light note. Perhaps my favorite market-closing headline of all time was published by The Atlantic back in 2015:
The article recounts an instance in 1987 when, amongst all potential outcomes, a squirrel damaged the NYSE electrical systems in Trumbull, Connecticut leading to an 82-minute outage. But wait – there’s more! As The Atlantic described, ”That squirrel died, but its legacy lived on: In 1994, another mischievous Trumbull squirrel caused a similar disruption after gnawing on a power line.”
Today, However, is a Day of Mourning
Through our quick journey of past market closures, we have skimmed over numerous moments of both severity and humor. But one thing we do not want to skim over is the death that today’s closure is meant to honor. The passing of a former or current president is always a significant one, and here at APCM, our thoughts and prayers are with the Bush family and their friends.