Top 10 World’s Biggest Financial Crises Ever

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A financial crisis is said to occur when an asset loses a large part of its face value. This can lead to a wide range of adverse consequences such as a fall in output or stagnancy, currency crashes and worse, sovereign defaults. Such notable crises have been occurring since 4th century BCE (Dionysus of Syracuse) and have continued on different scales and levels. They have far reaching effects into the very roots of the economy. The causes of the crises can be manifold, and they have evolved as man as discovered means to propel society to higher levels of development.

Our world is now very inter-connected through currency markets, trade relations and capital flows. The advent of multinational corporations has also added to these inter-linkages. Thus, crises that may occur in one country can often get transmitted to another like a bad case of financial influenza driven by fears and speculation. In view of the various crises that have occurred in the world over time, i present a list of 10 notable ones in terms of the transforming effects they had on a wide scale:

10.Black Monday


In the finance world, The Black Monday refers to the time of October 19, 1987. During that day, there was a widespread stock market crash all around the world. The beginning of this crash originated in Honk Kong and eventually spread to Europe. Ultimately, the United States was affected as well. The Dow Jones dropped by 22.1%, and it took almost 2 years to reach even the previous high of 1987. This recovery occurred despite fears that the crash would spell economic gloom like the 1930s. Many explanations exist for this sudden crash, but none is conclusive. Program trading is one popular theory. It is said that the level of computerization of stock trading had gone up during the 1970s. As a result, computers often performed arbitrage based on external prices. Thus when prices of stock fell, they rapidly sold more and more, thereby worsening the crash. However, this has been contested because of the origin of the crises being in Honk Kong, whereas program trading was more prevalent in USA and also due to the level it spread across the globe. Institutional rigidity and market psychology have been cited as other causes.

 9. Dot-Com Bubble

dotcom bubble

This speculative bubble related to internet based companies saw massive rises in equity stock values of industrialized nations from 1997-2000. This bubble began because of easy credit availability in 1997-1998. These start-up companies wanted to establish a high market share by establishing more coverage. This meant that many of the services were freely provided, and large operational losses were actually occurring. They wanted to establish a brand and then charge profitable rates. The phrase “Get large or get lost” operated in the minds of company founders. The quick expansion of growth rates of these companies led to a self-perpetuating boom in the share prices. This was riding vastly on hopes of further expansions due to technology. However, in early 2000, the FED spiked interest rates 6 times and the economy began to slow down. The market was also triggered further by the findings of the Microsoft vs USA case. A bearish trend started prevailing, and by 2001, most of the dot-com companies crashed after finishing off their venture capital. These failed companies called “dot-bombs” never actually made any profit.

8. Credit Crisis of 1772


This crisis originated in London and spread to other parts of Europe, such as Netherlands. Ironically, it had been preceded by a period of great prosperity for Britain. The mid 1760s and 1770s saw a credit boom which spurred greater manufacturing and industrial activity. The period of 1770 to 1772 was politically very stable for Britain and its colony, America. However, there was a deeper systemic problem that prevailed under the surface of this prosperity. Speculative practices thrived to generate more credit, and this led to a false feeling of optimism in the market. On June 8, 1772, the fleeing of one of the partners of the Banking House “Neal, James, Fordyce and Down” due to failure to repay debts led to panic. During that time, investment was heavily dependent on the confidence of the market as even today. The confidence of the people in banks collapsed, and they rushed to reclaim their money. As a result, several bankruptcies were reported in London. In order to repay its debts, London exerted further pressure on the tea colonial trade to repay its debts. This eventually led to the protest of American colonies of New York, Boston, etc led to the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773.

7. OPEC Oil Price Shock (1973)

oil shock

This crises began in 1973 when the member countries of the OPEC (Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries) declared an oil embargo (prevention of trade). This was done specifically in retaliation to USA’s unflagging supply of arms to Israel which was retaliating against Arab warfare on its holiest day that day. This lasted till March 1974. The negotiations by the Nixon Administration with Israel and the other Arab countries eventually led to the end of this embargo. However, even before this, the other factor that operated was the collapse of Bretton Woods which led different economies to use their own respective floating currencies. However, oil was priced in dollars and the depreciation of several currencies that followed (due to fluctuations to adjustment that led to money printing) also reduced the earnings of the oil exporting nations. Thus raising oil prices was an effective means to stabilize their real incomes over the years. The embargo that followed later because of the political warfare aspect eventually forced the developed nations to consider energy conservation and a far more restrictive monetary policy to curb inflation.

6. 1998 Russian Crises

russian crises

This crises, also known as the “rubble crises” saw a wide ranging effect on countries of the world such as the Baltic States, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, USA, Belarus, Uzbekistan etc. There was a wide range of reasons for this crises. The internal decline in productivity, ballooning fiscal deficit which was aggravated further by the Chechnya War which ended in 1996 were enough to set the stage for other events that triggered the crises. The 1997 Asian crises led to a fall in prices of metals and oil which severely affected the exchange rate in real terms. The rubble had been kept artificially fixed all this time, and when the value of these important capital goods fell, there was a fall in GDP, unemployment and capital flight. Political uncertainty occurred when there was a massive dismissal of cabinet members by the President of Russia. Despite the efforts to attract more capital and generate liquidity, the debt on wages of the people (particularly miners) grew. The switch to a floating exchange rate led to a massive depreciation that didn’t help investor confidence. It was really the rise in oil prices in 1999-2000 that helped Russia to finally have a trade surplus and the domestic industries had benefited from the spike in prices of imports as a result of depreciation.

5. 1997 Asian Crises

asia crises

The Asian Crises originated in a rather small economy called Thailand. The country had experienced rapid expansion in the 1980s and most of the 1990s. However, much of this growth had previously been financed by domestic savings and industrialization occurred due to Japanese subsidiaries. However, speculative capital flows, particularly from developed economies eventually led to currency crises. The Thai government had maintained a fixed exchange rate and rising demand for Thai currency, baht had led to increase in the money supply that threatened to make the exchange rate non-competitive. Over time, imports rose, and exports fell. The trade deficit worsened as a result. This led to a fall in investor’s confidence. The souring of Japanese currency also contributed to fall in desirability of the “emerging economies” attractiveness. The handover of Honk Kong sovereignty on July 1, 1997 was the final trigger for growing panic in the market about the success of Asian economies. The next day, the Thai stock market crashed, and the government was forced to allow the currency to float and depreciate. The crises had officially begun. It spread widely to most of the South East Asian economies particularly and heavily affected USA.

4. Wall Street Crash

wall street

This was the most shocking crash of the United States Stock Market. It began in October 1929. Also known as black Monday, it came as a blow to the market which was riding on the highs of early 1920s. There was a feeling of euphoria in the market that the stock market would rise indefinitely, and that wealth would keep on rising. There was a warning bell of crash in March 1929 that had been warded off by the efforts of National City Bank. The previous prosperity had encouraged people to take more loans, and the stock market rise was considered a good sign. However, the economy was not doing well in the late 1920s. The production of steel, construction activity and car sales were all going down. Consumers had built up large debts due to easy credit. An over-supply of wheat depressed prices and farmers were losing heavily. The fall of commodity markets shook American confidence and eventually the faltering trend of the stock market reflected this. Thus a period of panic selling started and further worsened the self-fulfilling prophecy that the market would go down even more.

3. The Great Depression

great depression

It was the worst economic disaster of the 20th century and started in 1930s. Many countries of the world, especially the heavily industrialized ones were badly affected by contraction in output growth, high unemployment, severe deflation and fall in trade. This lasted till 1933 in USA, but many countries were affected even till World War II period. Many explanations operate to explain why this crises happened in the first place. The major trigger is said to be the Wall Street Crash of 1929 which caused many USA citizens to lose a chunk of their incomes. An  agricultural drought occurred in 1930 that worsened the agricultural scenario in the country. There was already a contraction in steel, mining and construction prevailing. The enactment of Smoot-Hawley Act by USA to protect the competitiveness of its currency also worsened international trade scenario. The decline of USA led to a transmission effect to other parts of the world. Each country’s difficulties were either worsened and improved because of prevailing structural component and regulatory environment. However, one aftermath of this event was the implementation of social democracy in European countries after World War II.

2. Eurozone Crises


This is an ongoing crisis that began in 2009 in the European region. It occurred due to growing fears of defaults by sovereigns of the European Union, particularly Greece, Portugal,Ireland, Spain and Italy. It exposed the fiscal inefficiencies of many countries. Previously in 1992, the members of the EU had signed the Maastricht Treaty which designated the levels of necessary levels of fiscal performance. However, countries like Greece spent heavily on public sector wages and social payments. The means to achieve the funds was done by securing future payments. This meant that they borrowed today on the basis of revenue expected to be generated later. Unfortunately, the economic slowdown in 2008 had trimmed these future revenues. Practices had been undertaken to evade international agreements. They were now exposed. The banking crashes, bursting of property bubbles in the countries prompted bailout programs to generate liquidity for these cash-strapped nations. However, much remains to be seen before relatively bigger economies such as Spain and Italy can be helped entirely. The main problem that exists even today is the nature of the common euro currency that makes monetary policy inflexible while fiscal policy was greatly undermined already.

1. Financial crises of 2008

2008 crises

This crises was considered the worst one since the Great Depression itself. This easy availability of credit propelled greater demand for housing and a bubble started. However, once this ended, there was a big crash in housing prices. Mortgage values now exceeded the values of houses bought. A great level of lending to less credit worthy borrowers had also prevailed, called sub-prime lending. The existence of financial instruments like Collateralized Mortgage obligations (CMOs) allowed the effect to spread to the entire financial market. Financial innovations led to far greater risk taking appetite. However, the eventual collapse of trust in the market froze lending activity. The real economy had already begun to be affected since 2006. In 2008, this decline in investment spread further even to consumer goods. Over time, in the summer when spending on consumption fell massively, the economy began to decline. Big banking organizations like the Lehman Brothers collapsed and massive bailouts started. The USA also began to import less from the other countries and their exports languished. Thus their GDPs too began getting affected through this route and the various financial instruments that bound the world economy together. Credit became scarce, confidence fell and unemployment continues to be a problem even now in the USA


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