Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere

A couple of weeks ago we looked at a recent cover of Barron’s, which featured a picture of a giant bubble.  The cover story asked the rhetorical question of whether there was a bubble in the financial market. 

Indeed, the bubble vigilantes are out in full force which suggests a full-fledged financial market bubble hasn’t fully developed.  On the front cover of Nov. 18 Barron’s, the editors ask the question of whether or not equities are in a bubble.  Their answer: “Yes, in some tech names and new issues” and “No, in most other shares.”  The Barron’s cover very much underscores the heightened sensitivity to developing bubbles, which in turn keeps investor sentiment from becoming too ebullient before the final melt-up stage of the bull market.

With each passing week we see that a growing number of pundits and analysts remain on high alert over the development of a potential asset price bubble.  Bubble predictions have mainly been focused on stocks and real estate.  To just one example, The Washington Post blog published this headline on Monday: “These 17 countries may have housing bubbles.  If they pop, God help us all.” 

Behind this gloomy prediction is none other than Nouriel Roubini, the ultra-bearish economist who correctly forecast the global financial crisis six years ago.  Roubini doesn’t mention the U.S. in his list of bubble-prone countries but he believes that the large list of countries with frothy real estate markets could contribute to a global economic collapse on the order of the 2008 crash. 

According to Roubini, most major countries (excluding the U.S., southern Europe, Russia and Africa) are experiencing something akin to a real estate bubble due to cheap credit.  Should the bubbles begin to burst in the coming months the consequences to the global economy could be fatal.

Yet another high-profile prognosticator to engage in bubble-speak lately is Robert Shiller, the Nobel Prize winning economist.  Shiller has made countless forecasts in the financial press in recent years with mixed results.  His most vocal predictions are those dealing with a repetition of the 2008 financial market drama, and the popular press is all-too happy to publicize them. 

Shiller was at it again this weekend, warning of a U.S. stock market bubble.  He told Der Spiegel, “I am not yet sounding the alarm.  But in many countries stock exchanges are at a high level and prices have risen sharply in some property markets.  That could end badly.”  He added that he was most worried about the boom in equity prices because he believes that the U.S. economy is “still weak and vulnerable.”  He described the financial and technology sectors as “overvalued.” 

The growing number of bubble-related headlines was enough to warrant the conclusion I wrote in the Nov. 18 issue of Momentum Strategies Report:  “The Barron’s cover very much underscores the heightened sensitivity to developing bubbles, which in turn keeps investor sentiment from becoming too ebullient before the final melt-up stage of the bull market.”  In other words, as long as the financial press remains on “bubble alert” the chances of a massive market bubble are diminished. 

There may well be something to fear of Roubini’s global real estate bubble warning in 2014.  For that matter, perhaps even Shiller’s prophecy for U.S. equities will be fulfilled next year.  For the foreseeable future, however, the still-high level of investor caution and “bubble-phobia” should be enough to prevent the collapse that the Cassandras fear. Only when investors’ guard is relaxed do we need to worry about the detrimental effects of collapsing bubbles.  For now there appears to be enough concern to prevent the type of scenario the bubble-mongers are trying to conjure up, at least in the near term.

Note: By popular request I’ve provided an explanation of the weekly Kress cycles in my latest book, Kress Cycles, which explains the weekly Kress cycles in depth.  It's now available.