When the time comes to ask the question – 'What triggered the crash?' – remember that this is the least important question. The important question to ask is 'What drove the bubble?' That's where the lessons are.
Equilibrium is like conservation of mass – every purchase is also a sale; every security that’s created must be held by someone until it is retired; the shortfall of one sector must be the surplus of another. Once you insist on thinking in terms of equilibrium, it becomes obvious how many discussions in economics and finance are incoherent.
Investors seem to be vastly underestimating the extent to which a likely economic rebound will replace rather than augment the effect of trillions of dollars in pandemic relief programs, amounting to close to 20% of GDP, which preserved corporate revenues while subsidizing labor costs.
When a good market valuation measure rises, the extra return you celebrate has simply been removed from the future. When a good market valuation measure collapses, the shortfall of return that you suffer has also been added to the future. It’s important to know where you stand in that cycle.
What defines a bubble is that investors drive valuations higher without simultaneously adjusting expectations for returns lower. That is, investors extrapolate past returns based on price behavior, even though those expectations are inconsistent with the returns that would equate price with discounted cash flows.
Nothing so animates a speculative herd as a parabolic price advance in an asset detached from any standard of value.
The present constellation of market conditions creates the potential for the sort of “trap door” situation we observed in March. Still, an improvement in our measures of market internals would ease this risk, and could even create a constructive opportunity if improved market internals are first preceded by a material retreat in market valuations.
When people say that extreme stock market valuations are “justified” by interest rates, what they’re actually saying is that it’s “reasonable” for investors to price the stock market for long-term returns of nearly zero, because bonds are also priced for long-term returns of nearly zero. I know that’s not what you hear, but it’s precisely what’s being said.
Investors have apparently decided that if they’re going to price bonds at levels that provide long-term returns of next-to-nothing, they might as well go ahead and price everything that way.
Comments on what is now the most profoundly overvalued financial bubble in U.S. history, with additional notes on governance and public health.