Interesting Market History

20 Years Later, We Remember 9/11

On the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, we reflect on what America lost—and didn’t lose.

Twenty years ago tonight, no one outside the evil perpetrators went to bed knowing the world would fundamentally change forever the next morning. On September 11, 2001, Americans and the world watched in horror as terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Two decades later, we have not forgotten that tragic day in American history—and never will. Now is a time to remember the innocent lives lost—and the family and friends they left behind. To remember the survivors left with permanent physical and emotional scars. To remember—and honor—the heroes from that day: the first responders who charged into hell to save lives; the organizations who gave resources for the displaced; the ordinary people who provided comfort to those who needed it. And to take solace in America’s—and the western world’s—resiliency.      

We aren’t going to expound on any personal 9/11 retrospectives here—you can find plenty of poignant, well-done pieces elsewhere. However, we all remember where we were upon first hearing the news, and some of us know people who were in New York that fateful Tuesday. Like other Americans, the attacks on the Twin Towers shook us to our core.

But critically, 9/11 didn’t end the American way of life—a reality markets recognized, too. As we detailed several weeks ago, the S&P 500 dropped -11.6% between market close on September 10 - September 21, the post-attack low.[i] The shocking assault—unprecedented in American history—came amid a pre-existing bear market and further stoked uncertainty and knocked already-weak sentiment.

However, the market impact was relatively short-lived. Stocks—efficient discounters of widely known information—diagnosed that, although the trauma of the day was giant and global, the actual economic fallout wasn’t. Just 19 trading days after 9/11 (October 11, 2001), the S&P 500 eclipsed pre-attack levels.[ii] This is what we mean when we say markets are callous. Their focus on tragedies is less on the personal human toll and more on the global economic impact. Markets recognized terrorism was now part of our lives, but that evil alone wasn’t enough to stop businesses from producing or people from living their lives.

From a market perspective, the fall of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attack fundamentally changed our view of terrorism radically and forever. The attack opened our eyes to a new, darker reality. However, that loss of innocence also robbed terror attacks of their shock power over both the stock market and broader society. The US and other democratic developed nations have tragically suffered numerous terrorist attacks on their home soil over the past 20 years—yet the market impact has been fleeting. Stocks, like free people the world over, have seemingly learned to live with the omnipresent risk of a terrorist strike. It is a sad reality 9/11 awakened us all to—but society has adapted to it.

As we reflect on the 20-year anniversary of a watershed day in American history, we humbly suggest putting aside any market-related thoughts for a bit. Instead, now is a time to think of those still recovering from the trauma of two decades ago. It is a time to express gratitude for those who gave and sacrificed—and to keep in mind those who still feel the pain of loss on this tragic anniversary.

[i] Source: FactSet, as of 9/10/2021. S&P 500 total return, 9/10/2001 – 9/21/2001.

[ii] Source: FactSet, as of 9/10/2021. S&P 500 total return, 9/10/2001 – 10/11/2001.

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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.