The trading card market doesn’t exactly behave like the Dow or the S&P. Let’s talk about what that means for collectibles investors.
There are two relatively recent events that remain stuck in the psyches of stock market investors and cut deep to this day: The financial crisis of 2008 and the extended stock-market selloff of 2015. Inspired by Card Ladder founder Chris McGill’s analysis of sales histories of iconic sports trading cards during key financial moments throughout history, I got curious. Did the violent movements of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other key financial indicators affect sports card prices in ’08 and ’15?
And if so, what lessons could these periods offer to sports card collectors hoping to maximize our bottom line during the next market downturn? Let’s investigate.
On September 15, 2008, the global financial crisis came to a head when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, popping the US housing bubble and sparking the most massive global recession since the Great Depression. It was a period that sent economic shockwaves across the world, resulting in bank failures all over Europe and huge drops in stock and commodity prices.
However, while the rest of the market was suffering, Michael Jordan’s iconic 1986 Fleer PSA 10 was unperturbed.
After setting an all-time high at $6,600 just a month after the Dow tanked by nearly 500 points in a single day, Jordan’s Fleer saw a small dip, with sales of $6,100 and $5,100 over the coming months — though neither broke the pre-market-crash low of $4,700.
Almost a year to the day of Lehman’s bankruptcy, MJ’s PSA 10 sold for yet another all-time-high of $7,100, a number it would never sink below again.
A similarly shallow pullback occurred following the 2015 market selloff that saw the Dow plunge 1,300 points from August 18-21. Having sold for an all-time high of $18,000 just a few weeks earlier, the GOAT’s ’86 Fleer hit a low of $16,000 near the end of October of ’15.
With the low watermark set just two months after the market selloff, Jordan’s iconic rookie card resumed its upward trend, setting the cycle top at a whopping $44,000 some eight months later, a price that would remain the all-time high until the current card boom took off in 2020 rewrote all the rules.
But it wasn’t just No. 23’s market that was able to prosper despite economic downturns. Hank Aaron’s similarly legendary 1954 Topps card set an all-time high for a PSA 5 at $1,626 days before the 2015 selloff hit — and only saw a single sale below that number ever again. Approximately six years later, in February of 2021, the card set its current all-time high at $13,200, an increase of more than eightfold since the start of the ’15 selloff.
And of course, we all remember what happened following the COVID stock market crash of spring 2020: Nearly every card in existence reached new all-time-highs in relatively short order, including Jordan’s ’86 Fleer, which reached a height of $720,000.
That’s more than 50 times higher than its final pre-global financial crisis sale.
Judging by these key examples, it’s apparent that broader forces within financial markets fail to affect the most iconic items within the alternative asset class that sports cards have become.
And based on this knowledge, it would be wise for card investors to look at any dips that follow traditional market corrections as timely buying opportunities.