2) Date: Oct. 15, 2008
Circumstances: That four of the worst 10 days in S&P history took place within two months of each other says something about the severity of the 2008 meltdown. The spiraling subprime crisis had already consumed Bear Stearns and knocked the S&P 20 percent off its all-time peak when the September 15 collapse of Lehman Brothers broadsided the market. The October 15 decline came after an 11-percent rally earlier in the week and was followed by a 4.2-percent rally the next day. Possibly the only thing on the rise was Dramamine sales.
[Read: The Election and Your 401(k).]
3) Date: Dec. 1, 2008
Circumstances: Continued subprime/Lehman/AIG fallout. Just to put a fine point on matters, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared 2007 a year of recession.
4) Date: Sept. 29, 2008
Circumstances: Markets were still on the ropes from the Lehman failure when the U.S. House of Representatives pole-axed it by rejecting the Bush administration's proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. Three days later Congress changed its mind, and lo, TARP was born. But the financial crisis was just beginning, as was the market's historic slide.
5) Date: Oct. 26, 1987
Circumstances: Everyone remembers Black Monday, but who remembers Brownish-Grey Monday a week later? OK, we just made up that name, but the market's October 26 decline, at the time, was the S&P's second-biggest ever. The spark: renewed panic in overseas markets that eclipsed a rally following the October 19 crash.
6) Date: Oct. 9, 2008
Circumstances: Ok, this is just a bad, bad year.
7) Date: Oct. 27, 1997
Circumstances: What became known as the Asian Contagion started on July 2, 1997, when Thailand devalued its currency, sparking devaluations and defaults throughout Asia. Regional stock markets collapsed too, and eventually the panic reached U.S. shores. The plunge triggered the first use of the New York Stock Exchange's trade-halting "circuit breakers"for the first time, and the S&P recovered most of its losses the next day, rising 5.1 percent.
8) Date: Aug. 31, 1998
Circumstances: While Americans were enjoying the dot-com boom and fixating on Bill, Monica, and the meaning of "is," the world around them was falling apart, partly as a result of the Asian crisis. On August 17, Russia devalued its currency, defaulted on domestic debt, and suspended payments to foreign creditors. That sent waves of panic through European and Latin American markets. It also rocked a little-known hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management. The market bounced back 5 percent a week later, after the Federal Reserve vowed to cut rates if necessary to limit the damage..
9) Date: Jan. 8, 1988
Circumstances: Still spooked by the previous October's mayhem, the market was perhaps overly vulnerable to bad news. It came in the form of White House documents, reported by the Washington Post, showing that the federal budget deficit might widen significantly in the coming year. Others feared the impact of regulations, to be announced after trading, developed in the response to the October 19 crash. Even nominally good news hurt: The Labor Department's report that unemployment had dropped to its lowest level in nine years prompted fears of an interest-rate increase.
10) Date: Nov. 20, 2008
Circumstances: Yet another spasm of fear amid the post-Lehman fallout, led by financial stocks. At 752, the S&P was down 52 percent from its October 2007 peak. But this was just a rest stop on the way to 677, the bottom reached on March 9, 2009.