How Investors Lose Money When the Stock Market Crashes

How Investors Lose Money When the Stock Market Crashes

4 Min.

It is common for stock markets to experience an upward trend driven by economic growth and the sustained profitability of corporations. However, market crashes can occur when the economy takes a downturn or when an asset bubble bursts. In the event of a crash, investors who panic and sell their positions may incur losses. It is usually better to wait for a market rebound rather than selling at a low point. Margin investors may be forced to sell their stocks at a loss if they receive margin calls.


In the past century, the American financial landscape has witnessed a series of substantial stock market downturns. Notably, in 1929, the Great Depression precipitated a staggering 90% decline in stock prices from their peak values. Similarly, in 1987, the market experienced a dramatic 20% drop in just one day. 

Navigating Post-Crash Sales

The intricacies of stock trading underscore the potential for substantial financial setbacks should investors overlook the sway of fluctuating share values on their wealth. In essence, investors procure shares at a specific price and can subsequently offload them to harvest capital gains. However, gains remain elusive if a waning allure among investors and a plummet in the perceived stock value lead to a steep share price plunge.

Illustratively, envision an investor acquiring 1,000 company shares for $1,000. Amidst a stock market collapse, the share price nosedives by 75%. Consequently, the investor's holdings transform from 1,000 shares valued at $1,000 to 1,000 shares valued at $250. In such an event, should the investor liquidate the position, a net loss of $750 would be incurred. Yet, maintaining composure and retaining the investment may present an opportunity for recuperation, as markets often rally in due course.

Leveraging Investments: Potential Gains and Risks

In financial markets, margin trading through leverage is capable of causing substantial losses during market crashes. This strategy involves investors utilizing borrowed funds to maximize their profits, merging their capital with a significant borrowed sum to capitalize on modest market gains. Only a nominal profit remains upon divesting the position and repaying the loan and its accompanying interest.

Consider this scenario: An investor secures a $999 loan from a financial institution at a 5% interest rate, augmenting it with a $1 personal contribution, rendering a total investment pool of $1,000. Should this sum be invested in a stock yielding a 6% return, the outcome would amount to $1,060. Following the loan repayment, a surplus of approximately $11 remains as profit. In terms of the investor's initial personal investment of $1, this translates to a return exceeding 1,000%.

This approach prospers in a bullish market but carries substantial peril when markets plummet. For instance, if the $1,000 investment diminishes to $100, the investor not only forfeits their initial dollar but also finds themselves indebted to the bank for over $950, an imbalance arising from a minuscule $1 initial investment by the investor.

Margin Trading's Role in the Great Depression

Preceding the onset of the Great Depression, numerous investors adopted substantial margin positions as part of their investment strategy. However, with the advent of the depression, these investors exacerbated their financial predicaments. Not only did they suffer complete losses of their assets, but they also found themselves burdened with significant debts. This predicament forced numerous banks into bankruptcy as they could not recover funds from these investors.

In response to this crisis, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enacted regulations to curtail the practice of investors taking large margin positions, aiming to prevent a recurrence of such catastrophic events. By adopting a long-term perspective and exercising caution when considering margin trading, investors can mitigate their losses in the event of a stock market crash.


The intricate interplay of financial markets, investor strategies, and economic downturns underscores the need for careful consideration and prudent decision-making in investments. Historical lessons, such as the impact of margin trading during the Great Depression, serve as stark reminders of the potential pitfalls that can await those who fail to exercise caution. As we navigate the dynamic landscape of finance, it is essential to heed regulatory safeguards and adopt a long-term perspective to safeguard our financial well-being and promote stability in the markets. By doing so, we can better prepare ourselves to weather the inevitable fluctuations and uncertainties that lie ahead, ultimately achieving our financial goals.

Margin Trading
The Great Depression