Skip to content

David's Macro Blog

Analysis and commentary on business, economics, real estate, financial markets, and other fun topics

Archive

Tag: Alan Greenspan

Are you an expert if you make mistakes? 

Are you an expert if you make BIG mistakes?

Are you still an expert if you miss the biggest financial bubble in world history?

Let’s consider these questions while reviewing some quotes from the so-called “experts” just prior to the 2008 financial collapse and the start of the Great Recession.

“I believe that the general growth in large [financial] institutions have occurred in the context of an underlying structure of markets in which many of the larger risks are dramatically — I should say, fully — hedged.”

— Alan Greenspan, 2000

“Even though some down payments are borrowed, it would take a large, and historically most unusual, fall in home prices to wipe out a significant part of home equity. Many of those who purchased their residence more than a year ago have equity buffers in their homes adequate to withstand any price decline other than a very deep one.”

— Alan Greenspan, October 2004

Financial innovation means “shocks may be less likely to result in the type of trend amplifying, self-reinforcing dynamic for sustained periods of time that can threaten the stability of the financial system… but it is unlikely to have brought an end to the periodic tendency of markets to experience waves of mania and panic.”

“Improvements in lending practices driven by information technology have enabled lenders to reach out to households with previously unrecognized borrowing capacities.”

— Alan Greenspan, October 2004

“The use of a growing array of derivatives and the related application of more-sophisticated approaches to measuring and managing risk are key factors underpinning the greater resilience of our largest financial institutions …. Derivatives have permitted the unbundling of financial risks.”

— Alan Greenspan, May 2005

“We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s gonna drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.”

— Ben Bernanke, July 2005

“In the financial system we have today, with less risk concentrated in banks, the probability of systemic financial crises may be lower than in traditional bank-centered financial systems.”

“The Federal Reserve is not currently forecasting a recession.”

— Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, January, 2007

“At this juncture, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained.”

— Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, Congressional Testimony, March, 2007

Final Questions:

  • Should an expert still be considered an expert AND be in a position of power and influence to repair the economy/financial systems after they didn’t even see it coming?
  • Why do professionals with significant academic training, industry experience, and extensive access to real-time data mis-interpret the fundamentals and say things that look foolish in retrospect?

Perhaps the best quote to summarize the situation:

“The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters.”

What do you think? Do you have a favorite expert quote not shown above? Comment below and let me know.

Probably the biggest fundamental truth to any market is that markets rarely remain in perfect equilibrium Instead, markets (such as the real estate market from 1998 through 2009 or the stock market from 1996 through 2003) move through different stages of asset price levels, participant psyche, and fundamental value.

The following are what I observe to be the 6 changing stages of any market.

Stage #1: Pricing Supported by Fundamentals

  • Asset prices are in-line with historic norms.

Stage #2: Speculation Starts

  • Market participants identify the current trend and project that it will continue indefinitely — speculation starts.

Stage #3: “New” Pricing Justified

  • Asset prices are so distant from historic norms that they are justified by new economic theories.
  • For example, during the 1990’s tech bubble, higher price-earning ratios were justified and main stream media proclaimed that we were in a “new economy”.

Stage #4: Mania

  • When more and more buyers / speculators want to get in on the action, asset prices go through the roof.
  • Consequently, even “junk” sells as easily as quality assets as unsophisticated buyers are taken advantage of by deal promoters in sometimes fraudulent schemes.
  • Transaction volume and pricing reach levels that cannot be explained rationally.
  • For example, during the tech bubble many internet companies with no real revenue and/or profit went public with ridiculously high valuation (and failed quickly).  During the 2006 peak of the real estate market, “liar loans” and “flipping” were rampant.

Stage #5: Crash and Burn

  • There are few new buyers and no more “greater fools” so buying demand drops and asset prices fall rapidly and dramatically.

Stage #6: Never Again

  • Lessons are learned and new regulations are proposed or implemented to curb the abuses that “caused” the market crash.
  • Assset prices may be below long term economic value of the underlying asset.

However…

Despite many visible and memorable booms and busts, the odds are that we will NOT remember that market cycles exist; instead, most market participants will get caught up and participate in the next bubble.

“There is NO doubt that sometime in the future, we are going to have this conversation again.  It will not be for quite a period of time, but it will occur because the flaws in human nature are such that we can not change that.  It doesn’t work.”

– Alan Greenspan speaking in reference to the simultaneous collapse in the credit, stock and real estate markets in 2008.

Start over at Stage #1 and repeat the cycle.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the 6 stages I’ve identified?  What stage do you think we are in the real estate, stock or other markets you know of?  What are some market cycles you have observed in your lifetime?

Please comment and share your opinion.