November 26

None More Black

In financial reporting, black is the new black. Whenever something momentously bad happens in the world’s markets, it’s a safe bet that the day will be labelled ‘black’. Let’s examine a few of the best-known examples.

Black Monday has the dubious honour of representing two of the most notorious US stockmarket crashes, one of which occurred in 1987 (when shares on Wall Street fell by 25% in a single day) and the other almost 25 years later in 2011. There is no consensus on what caused the former event, but the latter appears to at least have a specific trigger: the downgrading of US sovereign debt by credit agency Standard and Poor’s.

Black Tuesday is shorthand for the Wall Street Crash of 1929 which ushered in the Great Depression. Given the effects of international timezones, it’s also the name used in Australasia for the 1987 crash.

Black Wednesday, meanwhile, resonates a little closer to home. It refers to the day in 1992 when the British government, having failed to keep the currency’s value above the prescribed minimum, withdrew the pound from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Black Thursday is chiefly associated with 2010’s ‘Flash Crash’. During this brief period of extraordinary turbulence, the Dow Jones index plunged almost 1000 points, only to recover within minutes.

Black Friday, on the other hand, is a welcome event – and an annual one. Although the term was applied in the past to a stockmarket crash in the 19th century, its use is now cemented as the day after Thanksgiving in the US, upon which Christmas shopping begins in earnest. (The name came from the torrential traffic problems caused by bargain-hungry shoppers flooding to department stores.)

As stockmarkets don’t open over the weekend, there are fewer financial-world definitions of Black Saturday or Black Sunday, although the latter is known in popular culture as a vintage Italian horror flick. And also a Thomas Harris novel, later adapted as a feature film which climaxes with Robert Shaw dangling from an explosives-filled zeppelin over the Super Bowl. I’m not making this up. But I am digressing.

NB While this is an exhaustive list of the days of the week, it isn’t a comprehensive list of financial crises that have occurred on them. Nor is it possible to predict when the next crash will be. So, with Thanksgiving on the horizon, investors in retail companies can at least be thankful they have the predictable date of Black Friday to look forward to.

Duncan Black , 26 November 2013