Well it looks like the Fed has done it again.
They have successfully created another bubble. You can call this one the Equity Bubble. Once again it was done using the same toolbox of low interest rates.
It's amazes me when I watch this country keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Greenspan has been vilified post housing bust for keeping rates too low for too long in response to the last recession at the beginning of the decade.
Yet we have managed to do the same exact thing all over again before we have even fully recovered from the last time we made the same stupid mistake.
Any reputable economist will tell you that keeping interest rates too low for too long creates the perfect environment to create bubbles. The massive amounts of money created by such policy eventually begins to flow somewhere. This time it landed in stocks.
When looking at previous bubbles created by our two-decade-old Ponzi finance system (tech, housing, and now stocks) they all had one thing in common: The ability to borrow money at extremely low rates.
So Why Stocks This Time?
In my opinion it's multi faceted.
The banks have basically found their version of heaven since they now have the ability to:
- Hide their losses via fraudulent accounting
- borrow at practically zero.
As a bank in this environment you are going to make a fortune when you borrow at zero and lend to a home buyer at 5% or buy 30 year bonds that pay a 4.6% yield. It's almost impossible to lose money in such a rate environment when you are allowed to hide your losses with "hide the sausage" accounting.
A large piece of this newly created money then inevitably begins to flow into stocks.
This got the stock bubble started. Then (like any other successful bubble) you need to suck everyone else in.
How do you orchestrate this if you are the Fed? Take away all other investment options.
Investors(especially senior citizens) are desperate for yield. Many of the elderly depend on it. By dropping rates to zero, the Fed has wiped out CD's, money markets, and Treasuries as solid yielding investment options.
This essentially forces the public and fund managers into buying stocks and junk bonds in a desperate chase for yield because the "safe" investments pay them nothing. The higher the market goes the more investors get sucked in, just like any other Ponzi scheme.
Eventually, the bubble turns into a euphoria where investors can't get enough until the music stops(which it always does)...
I am not sure if we are into the euphoria stage yet, but one thing is for sure: bubbles never end well.
I find at sad that investors are forced to throw their retirement portfolio into a bipolar market that soars and crashes ever few years.
Just look at the S&P 500 over the past decade or so (click to enlarge):
Markets aren't supposed to look like this! I believe the rally we have seen in 2009 wouldn't have been nearly as strong if CD rates were at 5% like they have been historically.
Investing in a zero interest rate environment has now changed the whole game. It turns the market essentially into a speculative casino where investors desperately try to find returns.
I bet if you took a poll, 80% would tell you that they hate investing in an environment like this where they are forced to take huge risk in order to find return.
I know it aggrevates the heck out of me.
I mean who in the hell wants to work all their lives and put their life savings into something that resembles Space Mountain at Disney World? The average person in this country doesn't want to invest in a roller coaster ride that gives them nothing but a couple of heart attacks and zero return when all is said and done.
The Fed's policies however, tell you that they could care less about the average person in this country. It's all about taking care of their Wall St. buddies.
The Bottom Line
I don't know where we are in this bubble but one thing I do know is this:
Buying stocks because there are no other options versus buying them based on valuations is a recipe for disaster.
When was the last time you heard about P/E values on CNBC? Been weeks since I have heard them talk about it. Hell, they probably can't even figure out the real P/E valuations because their is so much crap that's sitting on so many corporate balance sheets not being accounted for because of fictitious accounting rules.
God only knows how many worthless bad loans remain valued at 100% on Bank of America's (BAC) balance sheet.
Don't be fooled folks: Markets that are made ignoring fundamentals eventually end up getting torched.
To be fair and balanced, are earnings up? Of course, but look what they are being compared to. The economy virtually stopped from Sept. 2008-March 2009. If you are an average company you should be beating earnings after downsizing and increasing productivity in response to the great recession!
The question is, can it be maintained? The answer is No Way Jose IMO.
What's scary is the quarterly earnings are probably going to look good which is going to throw even more investors onto the train we like to call the stock market.
Like any other bubble, this one will blow too and when it does there will be no place to hide because the Fed has used all of it's ammo to create the current equity bubble.
The way it will blow will be twofold:
- The mark to fantasy game ends and losses are realized.
- Interest rates march higher as the risk of default rises as we continue to play "hide the losses" from the Ponzi finance game that peaked with the housing bubble.
If you are long, enjoy the ride but watch out for that cliff that lies straight ahead.
Disclosure: No new positions at the time of publishing