Category Archives: asset bubble

18/6/20: Cheap Institutional Money: It’s Supply Thingy

In a recent post, I covered the difference between M1 and MZM money supply, which effectively links money available to households and institutional investors for investment purposes, including households deposits that are available for investment by the banks ( Here, consider money instruments issuance to institutional investors alone:

Effectively, over the last 12 years, U.S. Federal reserve has pumped in some USD 2.6 trillion of cash into the financial asset markets in the U.S. These are institutional investors' money over and above direct asset price supports via Fed assets purchasing programs, indirect asset price supports via Fed's interest rates policies and QE measures aimed at suppression of government bond yields ( 

Any wonder we are in a market that is no longer making any sense, set against the economic fundamentals, where free money is available for speculative trading risk-free (

8/6/20: 30 years of Financial Markets Manipulation

Students in my course Applied Investment and Trading in TCD would be familiar with the market impact of the differential bid-ask spreads in intraday trading. For those who might have forgotten, and those who did not take my course, here is the reminder: early in the day (at and around market opening times), spreads are wide and depths of the market are thin (liquidity is low); late in the trading day (closer to market close), spreads are narrow and depths are thick (liquidity is higher). Hence, a trading order placed near market open times tends to have stronger impact by moving the securities prices more; in contrast, an equally-sized order placed near market close will have lower impact.

Now, you will also remember that, in general, investment returns arise from two sources: 
  1. Round-trip trading gains that arise from buying a security at P(1) and selling it one period later at P(2), net of costs of buy and sell orders execution; and 
  2. Mark-to-market capital gains that arise from changes in the market-quoted price for security between times P(1) and P(2+).
The long-running 'Strategy' used by some institutional investors is, therefore as follows: 
Here is the illustration of the 'Strategy' via Bruce Knuteson paper "Celebrating Three Decades of Worldwide Stock Market Manipulation", available here:
  • Step 1: Accumulate a large long portfolio of assets;
  • Step 2: At the start of the day, buy some more assets dominating your portfolio at P(1) - generating larger impact of your buy orders, even if you are carrying a larger cost adverse to your trade;
  • Step 3: At the end of the day, sell at P(2) - generating lower impact from your sell orders, again carrying the cost.

On a daily basis, you generate losses in trading account, as you are paying higher costs of buy and sell orders (due to buy-sell asymmetry and intraday bid-ask spreads differences), but you are also generating positive impact of buy trades, net of sell trades, so you are triggering positive mark-to-market gains on your original portfolio at the start of the day.

Knuteson shows that, over the last 30 years, overnight returns in the markets vastly outstrip intraday returns. 

Per author, "The obvious, mechanical explanation of the highly suspicious return patterns shown in Figures 2 and 3 is someone trading in a way that pushes prices up before or at market open, thus causing the blue curve, and then trading in a way that pushes prices down between market open (not including market open) and market close (including market close), thus causing the green curve. The consistency with which this is done points to the actions of a few quantitative trading firms rather than
the uncoordinated, manual trading of millions of people."

Sounds bad? It is. Again, per Knuteson: "The tens of trillions of dollars your use of the Strategy has created out of thin air have mostly gone to the already-wealthy: 
  • Company executives and existing shareholders benefi tting directly from rising stock prices; 
  • Owners of private companies and other assets, including real estate, whose values tend to rise and fall with the stock market; and 
  • Those in the financial industry and elsewhere with opportunities to privatize the gains and socialize the losses."

These gains to capital over the last three decades have contributed directly and signi ficantly to the current level of wealth inequality in the United States and elsewhere. As a general matter, widespread mispricing leads to misallocation of capital and human effort, and widespread inequality negatively a effects our social structure and the perceived social contract."

25/2/2020: No, 2019-nCov did not push forward PE ratios to 2002 levels

Markets are having a conniption these days and coronavirus is all the rage in the news flow.  Here is the 5 days chart for the major indices:

And it sure does look like a massive selloff.

Still, hysteria aside, no one is considering the simple fact: the markets have been so irrationally priced for months now, that even with the earnings being superficially inflated on per share basis by the years of rampant buybacks and non-GAAP artistry, the PE ratios are screaming 'bubble' from any angle you look at them.

Here is the Factset latest 20 years comparative chart for forward PEs:

You really don't need a PhD in Balck Swannery Studies to get the idea: we are trending at the levels last seen in 1H 2002. Every sector, save for energy and healthcare, is now in above 20 year average territory.  Factset folks say it as it is: "One year prior (February 20, 2019), the forward 12-month P/E ratio was 16.2. Over the following 12 months (February 20, 2019 to February 19, 2020), the price of the S&P 500 increased by 21.6%, while the forward 12-month EPS estimate increased by 4.1%. Thus, the increase in the ā€œPā€ has been the main driver of the increase in the P/E ratio over the past 12 months."

So, about that 'Dow is 5.8% down in just five days' panic: the real Black Swan is that it takes a coronavirus to point to the absurdity of our markets expectations.

1/9/19: Priming the Bubble Pump: Extreme Credit Accommodation in the U.S.

Using Chicago Fed National Financial Conditions Credit Subindex (weekly, not seasonally adjusted data), I have plotted credit conditions measurements for expansionary cycles from 1971 through late August 2019. Positive values of the index indicate tightening of credit conditions in the economy, while negative values denote loosening of credit conditions.

Since the start of the 1982 expansionary cycle, every consecutive cycle was associated with sustained, long term loosening of credit conditions, which means the Fed and the regulatory authorities have effectively pumped up credit in the economy during economic expansions - a mark of a pro-cyclical approach to financial policies. This trend became extreme in the last three expansionary cycles, including the current one. In simple terms, credit conditions from the end of the 1990s recession, through today, have been exceptionally accommodating. Not surprisingly, all three expansionary cycles in question have been associated with massive increases in leverage and financialization of the economy, as well as resulting asset bubbles ( bubble in the 1990s, property bubble in the 2000s, and financial assets bubbles in the 2010s).

The current cycle, however, takes this broader trend toward pro-cyclical financial policies to a new level in terms of the duration of accommodation and the fact that it lacks any significant indication of moderation.

23/4/19: Property, Property and More Property: U.S. Household Wealth Bubble

According to the St. Luis Fed, U.S. household wealth has reached a historical high of 535% of the U.S. GDP (see:

There is a problem, however, with the above data: it reflects some dodgy ways of counting 'household wealth'. For two primary reasons: firstly, it ignores concentration risk arising from wealth inequality, and secondly, it ignores concentration risk arising from households' exposure to property markets. A good measure of liquidity risk controlled allocation of wealth is ownership of liquid equities (note: equities, of course, and are subject to Fed-funded bubble dynamics). The chart below - via shows a pretty dire state of equity markets (the source of returns on asset demand side being swamped over the last decade by shares buybacks and M&As), but it also shows that households did not benefit materially from the equities bubble.

In other words, controlling for liquidity risk, the Fed's meme of historically high household wealth is seriously challenged. And controlling for wealth inequality (distributional features of wealth), it is probably dubious overall.

So here's the chart showing just how absurdly property-dependent (households' home equity valuations in red line, index starting at 100 at the end of the Global Financial Crisis) the Fed 'wealth' figures (blue line, same starting index) are:

In fact, dynamically, rates of growth in household home equity have been far in excess of the rates of growth in other assets since 2012.  In that, the dynamics of the current 'sound economy' are identical (and actually more dramatic) to the 2000-2006 bubble: property, property and more property.