April 12th, 2011

Chernobyl, Fukushima Dai-Ichi and the Market

I’m always on the lookout for things to write about and subscriber questions are always an interesting place to begin. For example, someone wrote this morning asking the following:

“Japan has now raised their reactor crisis to Level 7, the highest level and equal to the Chernobyl disaster. Is there any chart information from the Chernobyl disaster that might help us?”

At first I thought linking a nuclear reactor disaster to the US stock market was unusual but, after giving it some more thought, I realized that actually there was value in looking back to see how the market reacted then and comparing it to what might happen in reaction to the current one. Understanding similarities and differences between the two events at the disaster and the market levels could, after all, be quite meaningful.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian SSR (now Ukraine). An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere spreading over much of Western Russia and Europe. It was considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and it was the only one classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale until the Fukushima I nuclear accidents of March 2011.

The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy……Estimates of the number of deaths potentially resulting from the accident vary enormously: the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest it could reach 4,000; a Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more; a Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 excess deaths occurred between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination. (from Wikipedia)

The market’s reaction at the time was as follows (click on image to enlarge):

It might first appear as though the disaster damaged the market by stalling attempts to move higher as the S&P 500 Index began trading in an 11% range between 229 and 254. If Chernobyl did have a direct relationship to the consolidation pattern during most 1986 then it pales by comparison, however, with the market’s own melt-down and the largest one-day percentage point loss on Black Monday in October 1987 a little over a year later:

Put in an even longer-term picture, Chernobyl appears as little more than a bump in the road of the longest bull market in history that began when the S&P 500 successfully first crossed above 125 (Dow Jones Industrial Average above 1000) in 1982 and ended with the bursting of the Tech Bubble in 2000:

It’s difficult making “if-all-things-are-considered-equal” sorts of comparisons because Russia in 1986 was different than Japan and the world economy and trade are today. I would say, however, that the market today is at about the same early phase in coming out of the current secular bear market that begab with the Tech Bubble Crash in 2000 as it was in 1983 coming out of 1966-1982 secular bear market. If, in fact, we are in the early phases of this recovery then, over the long-run, the Japanese nuclear disaster will also appear as a blip on future long-term charts.

Thanks for the question, Chuck.

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  • prasad

    Every country and every one knows that earthquakes are common in Japan so why did they built nuclear power plants? they know very well if they blasts what will be happened. Now they facing that situation it is very bad and unfortunate. Most powerful countries in this world like Russia, America, China and other European countries should help Japan to come out from this situation as soon as Japan come out from this situation they will fulfill their needs as well before this Nuclear blast in fukushima no one dont know where this city and what is the advantage of this city. Now every one can easily identify fukushima.

  • prasad

    The people where the Nuclear Plant blast occurred should be shifted to safety zone where they can live without any deceases without radiation. Japan government take the help from other countries like America, Russia so they can come out as early as possible.