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Stock volatility, return jumps and uncertainty shocks during the Great Depression


  • Mathy, Gabriel P.


There are a multitude of explanations for the depth and length of the Great Depression, of which uncertainty has been proposed as one possible explanation (Romer 1990). The 1930s not only saw extreme declines in output and prices, but stock volatility was also at record highs (Schwert 1989). This high stock volatility was generated by a series of discontinuous jumps as news about uncertainty arrived regularly during the 1930s, as shown by applying the Barndorff-Nielsen and Shephard (2006) test for jumps in a time-series. To provide a more historical narrative for these jumps, I outline some key events during the Great Depression that generated a sense of uncertainty for businesses and households which occurred contemporaneously to these extreme jumps. While much of the literature has placed Roosevelt's New Deal as a primary source of uncertainty, I do not find much evidence for this hypothesis, and instead find that banking crises, the breakdown of the gold standard, popular unrest and uncertainty related to the brewing war in Europe were primarily responsible for both jumps in returns and the uncertainty of the 1930s.

Suggested Citation

  • Mathy, Gabriel P., 2016. "Stock volatility, return jumps and uncertainty shocks during the Great Depression," Financial History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 165-192, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:fihrev:v:23:y:2016:i:02:p:165-192_00

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    Cited by:

    1. Jason Lennard, 2020. "Uncertainty and the Great Slump," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 73(3), pages 844-867, August.
    2. Hanedar, Avni Önder & Hanedar, Elmas Yaldız, 2017. "Ottoman stock returns during the Turco-Italian and Balkan Wars of 1910-1914," eabh Papers 17-02, The European Association for Banking and Financial History (EABH).
    3. Mathy, Gabriel & Stekler, Herman, 2017. "Expectations and forecasting during the Great Depression: Real-time evidence from the business press," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 1-15.
    4. Hanedar, Avni Önder & Hanedar, Elmas Yaldız, 2017. "Ottoman stock returns during the Turco-Italian and Balkan Wars of 1910-1914," eabh Papers 17-02, The European Association for Banking and Financial History (EABH).
    5. Hanedar, Avni Önder & Yaldız Hanedar, Elmas, 2017. "Stock market reactions to wars and political risks: A cliometric perspective for a falling empire," MPRA Paper 85600, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 25 Mar 2018.
    6. Gustavo S Cortes & Marc D Weidenmier, 2019. "Stock Volatility and the Great Depression," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 32(9), pages 3544-3570.
    7. Haelim Park & Patrick Van Horn, 2015. "Did the Reserve Requirement Increases of 1936–37 Reduce Bank Lending? Evidence from a Quasi‐Experiment," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 47(5), pages 791-818, August.
    8. Mathy, Gabriel & Ziebarth, Nicolas L., 2017. "How Much Does Political Uncertainty Matter? The Case of Louisiana under Huey Long," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 77(1), pages 90-126, March.
    9. Gabriel Mathy & Christian Roatta, 2018. "Forecasting the 1937-1938 Recession: Quantifying Contemporary Newspaper Forecasts," Working Papers 2018-004, The George Washington University, Department of Economics, H. O. Stekler Research Program on Forecasting.
    10. Gabriel P. Mathy, 2020. "How much did uncertainty shocks matter in the Great Depression?," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 14(2), pages 283-323, May.

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