Pop goes the Bubble
By Dimitri Orlov
Jun 23 2015
Running a fundraiser (which, by the way, has been a great success—thank you all very much!) has prompted me to think about money more deeply than I normally do. I am no financial expert, and I certainly can’t give you investment advice, but when I figure something out for myself, it makes me want to share my insights. I know that many people see national finances as an impenetrable fog of numbers and acronyms, which they feel is best left up to financial specialists to interpret for them. But try to see national finances as a henhouse, yourself as a hen, and financial specialists as foxes. Perhaps you should pay a little bit of attention—perhaps a bit more than one would expect from a chicken?
By now many people, even the ones who don’t continuously watch the financial markets, have probably heard that the stock market in the US is in a bubble. Indeed, the price to earnings ratio of stocks is once again scaling the heights previously achieved just twice before: once right before the Black Tuesday event that augured in the Great Depression, and again right around Y2K, when the dot-com bubble burst. On Black Tuesday it was at 30; now it’s at 27.22. Just another 10% is all we need to bring on the next Great Depression! Come on, Americans, you can do it!
These nosebleed-worthy heights are being scaled with an extremely shaky economic environment as a backdrop. If you compensate for the distortions introduced by the US government’s dodgy methodology for measuring inflation, it turns out that the US economy hasn’t grown at all so far this century, but has been shrinking to the tune of 2% a year.
And if you ignore the laughable way the US government computes the unemployment rate, it turns out that the real unemployment rate has grown from 10% at the beginning of the century to around 23% today.
So how can an ever-shrinking economy with a continuously rising unemployment rate be producing ever-higher stock valuations?
Simple! The stock prices are being driven up by the actions of the Federal Reserve. Since the great financial crisis of 2007, when the entire financial system almost collapsed, the Federal Reserve, through its Quantitative Easing (QE), has been making funds available at minimal cost to a set of financial institutions deemed “too big to fail.” (What that means is that they cannot be allowed to fail, because that would almost bring down the entire financial system again, but must be artificially propped up no matter what.) This financial life support has dramatically driven up the Fed’s balance sheet, which now stands at $4.5 trillion (it was less than $1 trillion before the great financial crisis of 2007).
Pop goes the Bubble