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On the brink of collapse

How the Kennedy assassination interrupted a Wall Street meltdown

At 2:07 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) halted trading shortly after news broke that U.S. President John F. Kennedy had been fatally shot. The market had been on a downward slide, losing $11 billion in capitalization in the previous seven minutes. But hours before Kennedy’s assassination, NYSE president G. Keith Funston was doing all he could to prevent a potential market crash as one of the largest futures commodities scandals of the 20th century started to unravel.

“Where were you when you heard about President Kennedy’s assassination?” Those old enough to have lived through the ’60s still ask that question of each other. One of the minor effects of the tragedy was the three-day shutdown of the stock market for the country’s mourning. But few knew that the temporary closing might have averted a Wall Street collapse that had nothing to do with the president’s death and everything to do with a major commodities fraud long in the making — the Salad Oil Scandal.

In November 1963, investigators discovered that the Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Refining Company — purchased by commodities trader and con artist Anthony “Tino” De Angelis — had defrauded 51 companies (including American Express) out of more than $180 million. Fearing financial ruin, the company’s 20,700 customers rushed to sell their vegetable oil holdings before they became worthless.

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