The danger of the bounce
Jan 7th 2010
Once again, cheap money is driving up asset prices
THE opening of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai on January 4th had symbolic as well as architectural significance. Skyscrapers have long been associated with the ends of financial booms. The Empire State Building opened in 1931, two years after the Wall Street crash. The Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur were unveiled in 1998, in the depths of the Asian crisis. Such towers are commissioned when money is cheap and optimism about economic growth is at its height; they are often finished when the champagne has gone flat.
The past three decades have been good for skyscraper-building. The cost of borrowing money, in nominal terms, has fallen sharply (see chart 1). Small wonder that one bubble after another has appeared in financial markets, with the subjects of investors’ dreams ranging from emerging markets and technology stocks in the 1990s to residential housing in the decade just ended. Nor is it surprising, with money so cheap, that consumers and companies have indulged in regular borrowing sprees.
When investors borrow money in order to buy assets, they push prices even higher. But this also makes markets vulnerable to sudden busts, as investors sell assets to pay their debts. The credit crunch of 2007-08 was the result of this process, with the debts greater and the price swings more violent than at any time in the past 30 years.
Critics argue that central banks, by focusing on consumer- rather than asset-price inflation, have encouraged bubbles to grow by keeping interest rates too low. By intervening when markets fall, but doing little to curb them when they rise, they have offered investors a one-way bet.
Such critics are worried that, in their eagerness to bring the credit crunch to an end, the authorities may be making the same mistake again. Official short-term interest rates are below 1% in much of the developed world. Emerging markets, through their currency pegs, tend to import these easy-money policies, even though most of them are growing faster than the rich economies are.
Low rates have certainly persuaded investors to move money out of cash. Investors withdrew $468.5 billion from money-market funds in the course of 2009. The “carry trade”—borrowing in low-yielding currencies to invest in high-yielding ones—is back in full swing. The Australian dollar has been a popular beneficiary.
Equity markets have rebounded strongly: the MSCI world index is more than 70% higher than its March low. Even bigger gains were seen in emerging markets, with the Brazilian, Chinese and Indonesian bourses all more than doubling, in dollar terms, last year. Those rallies have by themselves helped boost economic sentiment and have brought to a halt the vicious spiral of 2008, in which falling markets forced investors to offload assets at fire-sale prices.
At the same time, in the English-speaking markets of America, Australia and Britain, the stabilisation of house prices has bolstered consumers’ balance-sheets. Again, low interest rates have been a crucial supporting factor.
Optimists argue that the markets are now in a sweet spot. The global economy is recovering, with most developed countries coming out of recession in the third quarter of 2009. The authorities, concerned about the fragility of the recovery, will be reluctant to raise interest rates in the near term. Thus investors have been given a licence to buy risky assets.
see the rest at The Economist
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Sunday, January 17, 2010
The Economist sees the bubble now
In a recent post on the Economist's blog, the quote was some say that The Economist's correct calls of the tech and housing bubbles were just a magnificent stroke of luck. At Demand Side, we see them as magnificent pieces of historical revision. Either that, or the calls were buried where we could not find them. The Economist was very late to the game. They are hurrying to catch up. But here they come.
at 2:55 PM