Economic Disasters on Friday the 13th

Economic Disasters on Friday the 13th

On Jan. 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia, one of Italy's largest cruise ships, hit a reef and sank. Thirty passengers died, two are missing, and the ship suffered damages totaling more than $500 million. While the total value of the payouts to all passengers remains up in the air, the total cost to Carnival, the ship's owner, is estimated at $85 to $95 million.

Italy wasn't the only European country that got a black eye on Jan. 13, 2012. That day, Standard and Poor's downgraded the credit ratings of France, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and several other countries. As fears of a Europe-wide debt crisis rippled through financial markets, France's economic minister tried to put a happy face on the proceedings: "It is not good news," he shrugged, "but it is not a catastrophe."

On Aug. 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley hit the Florida coast. By the time it dispersed, two days later, it had wreaked $15.4 billion in damage -- $18.9 billion in 2012 dollars -- and caused 10 deaths. At the time, it was the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but its pricetag paled beside the hundreds of billions of dollars in damage caused the following year by Hurricane Katrina.

It might be a slight stretch to call Tupac Shakur's death an economic tragedy, but the famous rapper, who died on Sept. 13, 1996, was tremendously productive -- and profitable. All told, he has sold more than 75 million albums, the majority of which were released after his death. And, despite being off the stage for almost 20 years, he continues to be a top moneymaker: in 2010, his estate brought in an estimated $3.5 million.

It's difficult to calculate the total cost of Australia's "Black Friday" fires, which began on Jan. 13, 1939, and devastated the state of Victoria. Much of the affected area wasn't insured, but the total numbers are staggering -- all told, the fire burned almost 5 million acres of land, destroyed 3,700 buildings, and killed 71 people. As a later investigation into the fires concluded, "On that day, it appeared that the whole State was alight."

PHOTO: 73 years later: Eucalypt regrowth in an area affected by the 1939 fires. The trees make up a single cohort, with little diversity in age or size. The foreground includes part of a coup which has recently been logged and burnt.

It's not clear if Wall Street was already spooked on Oct. 13, 1989, when UAL Corporation, the parent corporation of United Airlines, announced that a leveraged buyout deal had fallen through. Regardless, the news unleashed a panic, leading to a collapse of the junk bond market, as well as plunging values in the Dow Jones Industrial Index, the S&P 500 Index, and the NASDAQ composite. The Friday the 13th Mini-Crash, as the event came to be known, shook investors and offered a foreshadowing of some of the stock market disasters that would follow.

Was John Gotti's acquittal on March 13, 1987, an economic tragedy? Well, it certainly worked out well for juror George Pape, who sold his vote for $60,000. And, for that matter, it was a pretty good deal for Gotti, who evaded racketeering charges, and earned the nickname "the Teflon Don." As for taxpayers, it was not such a blessing -- they had to pay for both that trial and the 1992 one that ended up convicting him.

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