Bust, Bust, Bust
There's the housing bubble and the commercial office space bubble. There's the Bond-market bubble and its two progenies, the junk-bond market bubble and the emerging-market-debt bubble. There's the nearly $3.00-a-gallon price you see at the pump, which has all the markings of an oil bubble. And the premiums being paid for all those corporate mergers and acquisitions are always coincident with the top of a stock-market bubble.
In fact, nearly every asset market you can think of is showing signs of bubble like behavior. The reasons for this behavior are quite clear: The global economy is awash in excess cash that has been "created out of thin air" .There is a tremendous amount of excess liquidity around, and it is proving very hard to get rid of it and the possibility of a bursting liquidity bubble around the world should be of serious concern but nobody seems to have noticed or if they have noticed they don't seem to care. To many analysts, this excess liquidity is exactly what some of them erroneously expect is the savings of the giant baby boom generation as they reach their peak earnings years and they begin to save more and more for their retirement. But the truth of the matter is; that the average retiree has less than $3000 in the bank on the day of his retirement. They are all mostly relying upon the government and if they are lucky, their corporate pensions. The governments "cradle to grave" campaign promises mentality has been bought hook line and sinker by a "something for nothing" gullible populace. The fact that the Government cannot possibly meet all its promises has been demagogued out of existence. We have neither a Social security nor any Medicare/Medicaid problem, President Bush is just a liar…. Wish it were so. More assuredly the major part of the story is the ultra simulative monetary policies of the central banks around the world. Ever since the Asian financial crisis in 1998, the Bank of Japan has been pumping out cheap money in an attempt to revive the Japanese economy in a vain attempt to slay the Deflation Dragon. But before you can defeat anything you must first learn who or what your enemy is. In the United States, the short-term interest rates that the Federal Reserve controls have been below the inflation rate for more than four years; that's four years of getting paid to borrow money. The FED message is loud and clear, "go forth and speculate".
One of the biggest culprit is probably the central bank of China, which, in its effort to prevent the appreciation of the Chinese currency, has had its printing presses working overtime to churn out all the Yuan's needed to buy up all those dollars earned through exports. CHINA IS A Communist government trying to run a Fascist economy of immense proportions with absolutely no experience and without the built in signals that a free market has. The un-fullfillable promises that an enormous population has grown to expect will come home to roost and the results will not be pretty.
FED maestro Alan Greenspan has argued that nobody can really identify a financial bubble until after it has popped, which was his reason why the Fed did little to try to stop the stock market bubble from getting out of hand in the later 1990s. That sophistry was recently exposed when transcripts of Fed meetings from 1999 were released showing that Fed officials, including Greenspan, were well aware that they were dealing with a bubble of immense proportions. That is now belied, as it was then, by any number of objective indicators of the widening gap between the economic and market value of various asset classes. Greenspan and Bernanke's seventeen successive discount rate increases, is their attempt to engineer a soft landing, this time around, before the bubbles inevitably pop, unlike the complete lack of action in the late 1990's. Hopefully they both learned something and its not too late.
Recently one Real Estate Guru, issued a report showing how the gap between the monthly out-of-pocket cost of buying a home vs. renting it, has been widening to an unsustainable 50% in the country's hottest markets; Nationally, the gap on average is now only 40 percent more expensive to buy than to rent, while in hot markets like South Florida, San Diego and San Francisco it is more than 55 percent. In Washington, it's 65 percent more expensive to own than to rent. If that is not a sign of a Real Estate Bubble living in the Greater Fool Theory phase then what is?
The housing market was so hot recently that in some of the hottest markets we even had the equivalent of day traders. In a drive to the Miami airport recently, all the driver would talk about was the million-dollar condos that were being flipped several times before construction was even completed. Six years ago, the talk was all about Dot.Com companies. David Berson, the chief economist at Fannie Mae, bemoans the sharp increases in the number of homes being purchased solely for investment purposes - up to 30 percent in some markets. One study by the National Association of Realtors estimated that 40 percent of homes in 2005 were purchased primarily for speculation.
The downtown office-building market is also red hot, even though, nationally, there has been little or no increase in rents. Most of the price escalation can be explained only by an expectation that price appreciation will continue at its current pace. This is another perfect example of the "Greater Fool Theory" since a normal positive return on capital cannot be achieved through Buying and then Renting.
Phil Verleger, an energy expert, brings a similar analysis to the recent run-up in oil prices, which he said is being driven less by fundamentals (supply, demand and the cost of replacing reserves) than it is by the upward pull of future's markets. He said OPEC and its silent partners, the major oil companies, know that they make the most profit when oil inventories are lean, and the best way to keep them lean is to keep spot prices higher than futures prices. Now that every hedge fund and college endowment is invested heavily in the futures market placing bets on higher prices, spot prices were following suit. BUT we have just witnessed what always happens when a speculative bubble bursts and an over extended genius (someone who confused being in a bull market with brains) looses $5 billion or 60% of his Hedge Fund assets virtually over night.
The current bond-market bubble was attested to by no less an authority than Greenspan himself, when he admitted he was puzzled by long-term interest rates that have failed to respond to the 4 1/4 -percentage-points increase in short rates that he has engineered. Greenspan called it a "conundrum." I call it a speculative market driven by a world awash in cash, irrational exuberance and herd behavior and perhaps more importantly the assumed existence of the Greenspan "Put". In my opinion , what happened in the Natural Gas pits will also happen to the rest of the Bubbles.
Another very important reason and one you rarely hear mentioned is a flight to quality by the super rich, who are more interested in protecting their assets than they are in how much more money they can make; especially given today's valuations and risk reward ratios.
The "Carry Trade" is also completely distorting the world's bond markets. A similar story is being told by the near record low spreads between Treasuries and Junk bonds - the interest-rate premium that borrowers have to pay over "risk-free" U.S. Treasury bonds. In the junk-bond market, spreads are near historic lows, with many new issues oversubscribed. In the market for emerging-market bonds, spreads that once peaked at more than 10 percentage points, at the time of the Argentine debt crisis in late 2001, have recently fallen to an all time low of 3.3 percentage points.
Perhaps worst of all is the fact that the FED has lost control of the money supply, since most of the new "out of thin air" money is being created outside the American banking system by the near Banks such as FNM , FRE, GE, etc. and the Reserve Banks of Japan and China.
Is it too much of a stretch to argue that stock prices have again entered bubble territory. Certainly as a multiple of earnings, today's prices are higher than they have ever been except for the three years 1999 - 2001. But how strong are earnings if most of them are coming from massive cost cutting, layoffs and share buy-backs but zero or even negative top line growth. There is a strong sense of "deja vu" in seeing Banks and Wall Street investment houses tripping all over one another to provide gobs of money on easy terms to companies and private equity funds engaged in bidding wars for overvalued companies. Take-Overs' are a cyclical phenomena since most takeover never work out as projected and then must get spun-off in massive cost cutting measures in their attempt to regain profitability.
I also assign some significance to the fact that Warren Buffett, who correctly identified the last bubble, now has $40+ billion sitting in the bank, and except for the odd beaten down utilities is unable to find acquisitions at reasonable prices in the USA.
I don't know whether the FED was right or wrong in not raising interest rates more than a quarter of a point at a time and in sticking to its promise of "measured" increases in the future while at the same time running an easy money policy. But what I do know, is that it is silly and down right dishonest for the FED to continue to ignore the condition of assets and financial markets, in supplying inflation data and then making decisions on erroneous data and not explaining them to the public. Does the fact that gold has risen from $255 to $725 mean nothing and therefore not worth discussing? Rest assured Gold's sell-off to $550 is only a normal pull-back in its ongoing major bull market.
"Irrational exuberance" is the most-widely quoted phrase ever uttered by a central banker. It's usually repeated in a way that makes Mr. Greenspan sound like the "Oracle Who Knew Better", who warned investors that the stock market bubble would burst.
This is bunch of B.S. He never gave such a warning. As for what Mr. Greenspan DID say about the 1990s stock market, here's a far more definitive remark -- especially for him -- which has long since vanished down the memory hole:
"It has become increasingly difficult to deny that something profoundly different from the typical postwar business cycle has emerged in recent years. Not only has the expansion reached record length, but it has done so with far stronger-than-expected economic growth.... The process of capital reallocation across the economy has been assisted by a significant unbundling of risks in capital markets made possible by the development of innovative financial products.... There are few, if any, indications in the marketplace that the reallocation process, pushed forward by financial markets, is slowing."
The time was April 5, 2000; the occasion was "The White House Conference on the New Economy." Yes, Alan Greenspan had purchased a first-class ticket on the "New Economy" train, right as it was about to go off the tracks. Because "the expansion" had "reached record length," he assumed that it wouldn't derail. He was mistaken. Why bring this up now?
Because, once again, Mr. Greenspan has issued a decree on one of the most important economic issues of the day, to the Council on Foreign Relations:
"A number of analysts have conjectured that the extended period of low interest rates is spawning a bubble in housing prices in the United States that will, at some point, implode.... But a destabilizing contraction in nationwide house prices does not seem the most probable outcome.... And even should more-than-average price weakness occur, the increase in home equity as a consequence of the recent sharp rise in prices should buffer the vast majority of homeowners."
Now, in that last sentence, substitute "stock values" for "home equity," and "investors" for "homeowners." Does it now have a familiar ring -- sort of like what investors were telling themselves as their NASDAQ-based "growth funds" were losing 80% of their value.
PRODUCTIVITY don't get me started on the huge productivity gains of the 90's that didn't really exist, that were used to justify widely overvalued markets.
Now days all you need to become a high priced analyst is to be gullible have no life experience and an MBA from Harvard or such but with not more than two elementary economic courses. That's tantamount to becoming a top lawyer the day you pass the Bar's. It takes working through at least one complete cycle (one bear and one bull market) before you can even dream of being a qualified analyst.
WHERE TO NOW
Since the next phase of the BEAR MARKET will be a Elliott Wave 3 or a Wave C of a giant irregular top for most markets and possibly only a first wave if the DJII breaks out to a new all time high, which is a strong possibility, sometime over the next week or two. Which would set the stage for the biggest BULL TRAP in history, as all caution is thrown to the winds, as the official NEW PARADIGM is proclaimed; just in time for all of the Bubbles to reach their inevitable bursting points. Every measure of investor sentiment will have reached all time extremes that are off the charts, which is exactly what is required to usher in the biggest bear market in history. Unfortunately we all no longer have much time left to think about it and prepare to take the very difficult action that must to taken. I been warning you in advance that "it takes a great deal of courage to stand alone" which is exactly what is necessary to first read the signs and then ACT contrary to all you friends and the advice of your brokers and financial advisors. By that time what ever credibility is left of the perennial Bears like Prechter Fleckenstein et al will have been cast asunder : Hopefully the soon to be rocketing price of Gold will have saved a little bit of mine.
Aubie Baltin CFA, CTA, CFP, Phd. (retired)
Palm Beach Gardens, FL
October 2, 2006
The above is my personal opinion, and in no way be deemed investment advice to buy or sell anything. It is submitted purely for informational purposes, based upon my understanding of the markets.