“Bubble” is commonly understood to describe a divergence between overvalued market prices and underlying asset values. And while price anomalies are a typical consequence, they are generally not among the critical aspects of Bubbles. I’ll start with my basic definition: A Bubble is a self-reinforcing but inevitably unsustainable inflation.
Bubbles, at their core, are fueled by Credit – or “Credit inflation.” Asset inflation and speculative asset price Bubbles are a common upshot. At their core, Bubbles are mechanisms of wealth redistribution and destruction.
The more protracted the Bubble period, the greater the maladjustment to underlying financial and economic structures. And the longer the Bubble inflation, the greater the wealth disparities and underlying social and political strain. While Bubble-related inequalities reveal themselves more prominently later in the up-cycle, the scope of wealth destruction only becomes apparent as the Bubble finally succumbs. As Dr. Richebacher always stressed, there’s no cure for Bubbles other than not allowing them to inflate. The catastrophic policy failure over the past 20 years has been the determination to aggressively inflate out of post-Bubble stagnation.
Bubbles can have profound geopolitical impacts as well. The inflation of Bubbles and corresponding booming economies promote the view of an expanding global economic “pie”. The inflating Bubble phase is associated with cooperation, integration and solidarity. The backdrop shifts late in the Bubble phase, as inequities and maladjustment become more discernible. Bursting Bubbles mark a radical redrawing of the geopolitical landscape. The insecurities and animosities associated with a shrinking economic pie see a rise of nationalism and “strongman” leadership. The backdrop drifts toward fragmentation, disintegration and conflict.
Regular CBB readers are familiar with this analytical framework. It is being reiterated this week because of the value I believe it provides in understanding this most extraordinary of environments. To disregard that the world was late in a historic Bubble period prior to COVID leaves analysts disadvantaged. Whether in the markets, real economies, politics or geopolitics, Bubble Dynamics these days play a profound role. This is becoming clearer by the week.
Let’s start with the markets. So, U.S. equities have diverged dramatically from underlying fundamentals. Most believe this is simply the marketplace peering over the valley to the reemergence of growth once the economy moves past the pandemic. More plausible analysis focuses on the securities price impact from unprecedented monetary inflation. (more…)