2019: Zombie Markets Before The Fall

Here’s why Colas is right but doesn’t understand why. Price discovery is the flipside of the coin that is a functional market because it allows for people to see why something is valued at the level it is, by a large(r) number of participants. Take that away and it is obvious that violent price swings may start occurring as soon as the comforting money teat stutters, or even just threatens to do so; a rumor is enough.

In physics terms, price discovery, and therefore markets themselves -provided they’re ‘healthy’ and ‘functioning’- delivers negative feedback to the system, i.e. it injects self-correcting measures. Take away price discovery, in other words, kill the market, and you get positive feedback, where -simplified- changes tend to lead to even bigger changes until something breaks.

Also, different markets, like stocks, bonds, housing, will keep a check on each other, so nothing will reach insane valuations. If they tend to, people stop buying and will shift their money somewhere else. But when everything has an insane value, how would people know what’s insane anymore, and where could they shift that is not insane?

It doesn’t matter much for ‘market participants’, or ‘investors’ as they prefer to label themselves, they shift trillions around on a daily basis just to justify their paychecks, but for mom and pop it’s a whole different story. In between the two you have pension funds, whose rapid forced move from AAA assets to risk will strangle mom and pop’s old-age plans no matter what.

People inevitably talk about the chances of a recession happening, but maybe they should first ask what exactly a recession, or a bear market, is or means when it occurs in a zombie (or just plain dead) market.

If asset ‘values’ have increased by 50% because central banks and companies themselves have bought stocks, it would seem logical that a 10% drop doesn’t have the same meaning as it would in a marketplace where no such manipulation has taken place. Maybe a 50% drop would make more sense then.

The inevitable future is that people are going to get tired of borrowing as soon as it becomes too expensive, hence unattractive, to do so. Central banks can still do more QE, and keep rates low for longer, but that’s not an infinity and beyond move. It a simple question of the longer it lasts the higher will be the price that has to be paid. One more, one last, simple question: who’s going to pay? We all know, don’t we?

That’s where the Fed is now. You can let interest rates rise, as Powell et al are indicating they want to do, but that will cut off debt growth, and since debt is exclusively what keeps the economy going, it will cut into economic growth as well. Or you can keep interest rates low (and lower), but then people have less and less idea of the actual value of assets, which can, and eventually necessarily will cause people to flee from these assets.

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