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Posts Tagged ‘stock markets’

Irrational exuberance

Both the financial and goods markets are heavily influenced by sentiment. And such sentiment tends to be self-reinforcing. If consumers and investors are pessimistic, they will not spend and not invest. The economy declines and this further worsens sentiment and further discourages consumption and investment. Banks become less willing to lend and stock markets fall. The falling stock markets discourage people from buying shares and so share prices fall further. The despondency becomes irrational and greatly exaggerates economic fundamentals.

This same irrationality applies in a boom. Here it becomes irrational exuberance. A boom encourages confidence and stimulates consumer spending and investment. This further stimulates the boom via the multiplier and accelerator and further inspires confidence. Banks are more willing to lend, which further feeds the expansion. Stock markets soar and destabilising speculation further pushes up share prices. There is a stock market bubble.

But bubbles burst. The question is whether the current global stock market boom, with share prices reaching record levels, represents a bubble. One indicator is the price/earnings (PE) ratio of shares. This is the ratio of share prices to earnings per share. Currently the ratio for the US index, S&P 500, is just over 26. This compares with a mean over the past 147 years of 15.64. The current ratio is the third highest after the peaks of the early 2000s and 2008/9.

An alternative measure of the PE ratio is the Shiller PE ratio (see also). This is named after Robert Shiller, who wrote the book Irrational Exuberance. Unlike conventional PE ratios, which only look at average earnings over the past four quarters, the Shiller PE ratio uses average earnings over the past 10 years. “Because this factors in earnings from the previous ten years, it is less prone to wild swings in any one year.”

The current level of the Shiller PE ratio is 29.14, the third highest on record, this time after the period running up to the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. The mean Shiller PE ratio over the past 147 years is 16.72.

So are we in a period of irrational exuberance? And are stock markets experiencing a bubble that sooner or later will burst? The following articles explore these questions.

Articles
2 Clear Instances of Irrational Exuberance Seeking Alpha, Jeffrey Himelson (12/2/17)
Promised land of Trumpflation-inspired global stimulus has been slow off the mark South China Morning Post, David Brown (20/2/17)
A stock market crash is a way off, but this boom will turn to bust The Guardian, Larry Elliott (16/2/17)
The “boring” bubble is close to bursting – the Unilever bid proves it MoneyWeek, John Stepek (20/2/17)

Questions

  1. Find out what is meant by Minksy’s ‘financial instability hypothesis’ and a ‘Minsky moment’. How might they explain irrational exuberance and the sudden turning point from a boom to a bust?
  2. Is it really irrational to buy shares with a very high PE ratio if everyone else is doing so?
  3. Why are people currently exuberant?
  4. What might cause the current exuberance to end?
  5. How does irrational exuberance affect the size of the multiplier?
  6. How might the behaviour of banks and other financial institutions contribute towards a boom fuelled by irrational exuberance?
  7. Compare the usefulness of a standard PE ratio with the Shiller PE ratio.
  8. Other than high PE ratios, what else might suggest that stock markets are overvalued?
  9. Why might a company’s PE ratio differ from its price/dividends ratio (see)? Which is a better measure of whether or not a share is overvalued?
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When pessimism takes over

Over 2015 quarter 3, stock markets around the world have seen their biggest falls for four years. As the BBC article states: ‘the numbers for the major markets from July to September make for sobering reading’.

  US Dow Jones: –7.9%
  UK FTSE 100: –7.04%
  Germany Dax: –11.74%
  Japan Nikkei: –14.47%
  Shanghai Composite: –24.69%

So can these falls be fully explained by the underlying economic situation or is there an element of over-correction, driven by pessimism? And, if so, will markets bounce back somewhat? Indeed, from 30 September to 2 October, markets did experience a rally. For example, the FTSE 100 rose from a low of 5877 on 29 September to close at 6130 on 3 October (a rise of 4.3%). But is this what is known as a ‘dead cat bounce’, which will see markets fall back again as pessimism once more takes hold?

As far as the global economic scenario is concerned, things have definitely darkened in the past few months. As Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, said in an address in Washington ahead of the release of the IMF’s 6-monthly, World Economic Outlook:

I am concerned about the state of global affairs. The refugee influx into Europe is the latest symptom of sharp political and economic tensions in North Africa and the Middle East. While this refugee crisis captures media attention in the advanced economies, it is by no means an isolated event. Conflicts are raging in many other parts of the world, too, and there are close to 60 million displaced people worldwide.

Let us also not forget that the year 2015 is on course to be the hottest year on record, with an extremely strong El Niño that has spawned weather-related calamities in the Pacific.

On the economic front, there is also reason to be concerned. The prospect of rising interest rates in the United States and China’s slowdown are contributing to uncertainty and higher market volatility. There has been a sharp deceleration in the growth of global trade. And the rapid drop in commodity prices is posing problems for resource-based economies.

Words such as these are bound to fuel an atmosphere of pessimism. Emerging economies are expected to see slowing economic growth for the fifth year in succession. And financial stability is still not yet assured despite efforts to repair balance sheets following the financial crash of 2008/9.

But as far as stock markets are concerned, the ECB is in the process of a massive quantitative easing programme, which will boost asset prices, and Japan looks as if it too will embark on a further round of QE. Interest rates remain very low, and, as we discussed in the blog Down down deeper and down, or a new Status Quo?, some central banks now have negative rates of interest. This makes shares relatively attractive for savers, so long as it is believed that they will rise over the medium term.

Then there is the question of speculation. The falls were partly due to people anticipating that share prices would fall. But has this led to overshooting, with prices set to rise again? Or, will pessimism set in once more as people become even gloomier about the world economy? If only I had a crystal ball!

Articles
Markets see their worst quarter in four years BBC News (1/10/15)
Weak Jobs Data Can’t Keep U.S. Stocks Down Wall Street Journal, Corrie Driebusch (2/10/15)
What the 3rd Quarter Tells Us About The Stock Market In October EFT Trends, Gary Gordon (2/10/15)
The bull market ahead: Why shares should make 6.7pc a year until 2025 The Telegraph, Kyle Caldwell (5/9/15)
Is the FTSE 100′s six year run at an end? The bull and bear points The Telegraph, Kyle Caldwell (24/8/15)

Webcasts
The stock market bull may not be dead yet CNNMoney (29/9/15)
IMF’s Lagarde: More volatility likely for emerging markets CNBC, Everett Rosenfeld (30/9/15)
What’s next for stocks after worst quarter in four year CNBC, Patti Domm (30/9/15)
Global markets to log worst quarter since 2011 CNBC, Nyshka Chandran (30/9/15)

Speech
Managing the Transition to a Healthier Global Economy IMF, Christine Lagarde (30/9/15)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between stabilising and destabilising speculation. Is it typical over a period of time that you will get both? Explain.
  2. What is meant by a ‘dead cat bounce’? How would you set about identifying whether a given rally was such a phenomenon?
  3. Examine the relationship between the state (and anticipated state) of the global economy and share prices.
  4. What is meant by (a) the dividend yield on a share; (b) the price/earnings ratio of a share? Investigate what has been happening to dividend yields and price/earnings ratios over the past few months. What is the relationship between dividend yields and share prices?
  5. Distinguish between bull and bear markets.
  6. What factors are likely to drive share prices (a) higher; (b) lower?
  7. Is now the time for investors to buy shares?
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A chill wind from the east

The mood has changed in international markets. Investors are becoming more pessimistic about recovery in the world economy and of the likely direction of share prices. Concern has centred on the Chinese economy. Forecasts are for slower Chinese growth (but still around 5 to 7 per cent) and worries centre on the impact of this on the demand for other countries’ exports.

The Chinese stock market has been undergoing turmoil over the past few weeks, and this has added to jitters on other stock markets around the world. Between the 5th and 24th of August, the FTSE 100 fell by 12.6%, from 6752 to 5898; the German DAX fell by 17.1% from 11,636 to 9648 and the US DOW Jones by 10.7% from 17,546 to 15,666. Although markets have recovered somewhat since, they are very volatile and well below their peaks earlier this year.

But are investors right to be worried? Will a ‘contagion’ spread from China to the rest of the world, and especially to its major suppliers of raw materials, such as Australia, and manufactured exports, such as the USA and Germany? Will other south-east Asian countries continue to slow? Will worries lead to continued falls in stock markets as pessimism becomes more entrenched? Will this then impact on the real economy and lead then to even further falls in share prices and further falls in aggregate demand?

Or will the mood of pessimism evaporate as the Chinese economy continues to grow, albeit at a slightly slower rate? Indeed, will the Chinese authorities introduce further stimulus measures (see the News items What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world and The Shanghai Stock Exchange: a burst bubble?), such as significant quantitative easing (QE)? Has the current slowing in China been caused, at least in part, by a lack of expansion of the monetary base – an issue that the Chinese central bank may well address?

Will other central banks, such as the Fed and the Bank of England, delay interest rate rises? Will the huge QE programme by the ECB, which is scheduled to continue at €60 billion until at least September 2016, give a significant boost to recovery in Europe and beyond?

The following articles explore these questions.

Articles
The Guardian view on China’s meltdown: the end of a flawed globalisation The Guardian, Editorial (1/9/15)
Central banks can do nothing more to insulate us from the Asian winter The Guardian, Business leader (6/9/15)
Where are Asia’s economies heading BBC News, Karishma Vaswani (4/9/15)
How China’s cash injections add up to quantitative squeezing The Economist (7/9/14)
Nouriel Roubini dismisses China scare as false alarm, stuns with optimism The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (4/9/15)
Markets Are Too Pessimistic About Chinese Growth Bloomberg, Nouriel Roubini (4/9/15)

Data
World Economic Outlook databases IMF: see, for example, data on China, including GDP growth forecasts.
Market Data Yahoo: see, for example, FTSE 100 data.

Questions

  1. How do open-market operations work? Why may QE be described as an extreme form of open-market operations?
  2. Examine whether or not the Chinese authorities have been engaging in monetary expansion or monetary tightening.
  3. Is an expansion of the monetary base necessary for there to be a growth in broad money?
  4. Why might the process of globalisation over the past 20 or so years be described a ‘flawed’?
  5. Why have Chinese stock markets been so volatile in recent weeks? How seriously should investors elsewhere take the large falls in share prices on the Chinese markets?
  6. Would it be fair to describe the Chinese economy as ‘unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable’?
  7. What is the outlook over the next couple of years for Asian economies? Explain.
  8. For what reasons might stock markets have overshot in a downward direction?
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The Shanghai Stock Exchange: a burst bubble?

Many Chinese people have taken to investing on the Chinese stock market, seeing it as a way of making a lot of money quickly. From October 2014 to June this year the market soared, rising by 126% from 2290 to 5166.

More and more people used their savings to buy stocks and China now has over 90 million individual investors. And it was not just savings that were invested. Increasingly people have been borrowing money to invest, seeing it as an easy way of making money. Unlike stock markets in developed countries, where the majority of shares are held by financial organisations, such as pension funds, holdings by individuals account for about 80% of stocks on the Chinese market.

But since mid-June, share prices have plummeted by 32% (see chart). People have thus seen a huge fall in the value of their savings, while many others have found their shareholdings worth less than their debts. The fall, like the rise that preceded it, has been driven by speculation, fuelled by first optimism and then pessimism.

The Chinese government is worried that the fall might dampen investment and economic growth. It has thus has been supplying liquidity to various institutions to buy shares, but this has had little effect and is dismissed by many as meddling. What is more it could expose companies which take advantage of the liquidity to greater risk.

So serious has been the rout, that over 50% of listed companies have halted trading on the mainland Chinese stock exchanges.

So just why has there been this bubble and why has it burst? What implications will it have for (a) China and (b) the rest of the world? The following articles explore the issues.

China’s stock market fall hits small investors BBC News Magazine, John Sudworth (7/7/15)
China Stocks Plunge as State Support Fails to Revive Confidence Bloomberg (8/7/15)
Chinese stocks are crashing Business Insider UK, Myles Udland, David Scutt (8/7/15)
Shanghai stocks plunge, over 1,200 Chinese companies halt trading Economic Times of India (8/7/15)
Everyone freaking out about China’s stock-market crash is missing one thing Business Insider UK, Elena Holodny (7/7/15)
China’s stock market has lost nearly a third of its value in a month Vox, Timothy B. Lee (8/7/15)
Chinese leaders may be undermined as investors suffer stock market slide The Guardian, Emma Graham-Harrison (8/7/15)
Opinion: China’s stock-market crash is just beginning MarketWatch, Howard Gold (8/7/15)
What does China’s stock market crash tell us? BBC News (22/7/15)

Questions

  1. What is meant by a ‘bubble’? Has the recent performance of the Shanghai Stock Market been an example of a bubble?
  2. Is the current fall in share prices in China an example of overshooting? Explain how you would decide.
  3. Distinguish between stabilising and destabilising speculation. Why does destabilising speculation not go on for ever?
  4. What is meant by the ‘stock market wealth effect’? How is the fall in the Chinese stock market likely to affect consumption and investment in China? How does the proportion of assets held in the form of shares affect the magnitude of the effect?
  5. What are the likely implications of the fall in the Chinese stock market for the rest of the world?
  6. Why has the Hong Kong stock market not behaved in the same way as the Shanghai market?
  7. What have the Chinese authorities been doing to arrest the fall in share prices? How likely are they to succeed?
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Predicting the stock market: it’s normally too late

With worries about Greek exit from the eurozone, with the unlikelihood of further quantitative easing in the USA and the UK, with interest rates likely to rise in the medium term, and with Chinese growth predicted to be more moderate, many market analysts are forecasting that stock markets are likely to fall in the near future. Indeed, markets are already down over the past few weeks. Since late April/early May, the FTSE is down 4.5%; the German DAX index is down 7.0%; the French CAC40 index is down 6.9%; and the US Dow Jones index is down 2.3%. But does this give us an indication of what is likely to happen over the coming months?

If stock markets were perfectly efficient, then all possible information about the future will already have been taken into account and will all be reflected in current share prices. It would be impossible to ‘get ahead of the game’.

It is only if market participants have imperfect information and if you have better information than other people that you can are likely to predict correctly what will happen. Even then, the markets might be buffeted by random and hence unpredictable shocks.

Some people correctly predicted things in the past: such as crashes or booms. But in many cases, this was luck and their subsequent predictions have proved to be wrong. When financial advisers or newspaper columnists give advice, they are often wrong. If they were reliably right, then people would follow their advice and markets would rapidly adjust to their predictions.

If Greece were definitely to exit the euro, if interest rates were definitely to rise in the near future, if it became generally believed that stock markets were overvalued, then stock markets would probably fall. But these things may not happen. After all, people have been predicting a rise in interest rates from their ultra-low levels for many months – and it hasn’t happened yet, and may not happen for some time to come – but it may!

If you want to buy shares, you might just as well buy them at random – or randomly sell any you already have. As Tetlock says, quoted in the Nasdaq article:

“Even the most astute observers will fail to outperform random prediction generators – the functional equivalent of dart-throwing chimps.”

And yet, people do believe that they can predict what is going to happen to stock markets – if not precisely, then at least roughly. Are they deluded, or can looking calmly at likely political and economic events put them one step ahead of other people who perhaps behave more reactively and emotionally?

Bond rout spells disaster for stock markets as global credit kraken awakens The Telegraph, John Ficenec (14/6/15)
Comment: Many imponderables for markets The Scotsman, Bill Jamieson (14/6/15)
How Ignoring Stock Market Forecasts Will make you a better investor Forbes, Ky Trang Ho (6/6/15)
The Predictions Racket Nasdaq, AdviceIQ, Jason Lina (21/5/15)

Questions

  1. Why may a return of rising interest rates lead to a ‘meltdown in equity prices’? Why might it not?
  2. Why have bond yields fallen dramatically since 2008?
  3. Why are bond yields rising again now and what significance might this have (or have had) for equity markets?
  4. Why may following the crowd often lead to buying high and selling low?
  5. Is there an asymmetry between buying and selling behaviour in stock markets?
  6. Will ignoring stock market forecasts make people better investors?
  7. “The stock market prices suggest that investors believe both the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England are bluffing about raising interest rates. That may be so, but it is an extremely risky game of chicken for investors to play.” Explain and discuss.
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US budget and debt ceiling deal

You may have been following the posts on the US debt ceiling and budget crisis: Over the cliff and Over the cliff: an update. Well, after considerable brinkmanship over the past couple of weeks, and with the government in partial shutdown since 1 October thanks to no budget being passed, a deal was finally agreed by both Houses of Congress, less than 12 hours before the deadline of 17 October. This is the date when the USA would have bumped up against the debt ceiling of $16.699 trillion and would be in default – unable to borrow sufficient funds to pay its bills, including maturing debt.

But the deal only delays the problem of a deeply divided Congress, with the Republican majority on the House of Representatives only willing to make a long-term agreement in exchange for concessions by President Obama and the Democrats on the healthcare reform legislation. All that has been agreed is to suspend the debt ceiling until 7 February 2014 and fund government until 15 January 2014.

A more permanent solution is clearly needed: not just one that raises the debt ceiling before the next deadline, but one which avoids such problems in the future. Such concerns were echoed by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who issued the following statement:

The U.S. Congress has taken an important and necessary step by ending the partial shutdown of the federal government and lifting the debt ceiling, which enables the government to continue its operations without disruption for the next few months while budget negotiations continue to unfold.

It will be essential to reduce uncertainty surrounding the conduct of fiscal policy by raising the debt limit in a more durable manner. We also continue to encourage the U.S. to approve a budget for 2014 and replace the sequester with gradually phased-in measures that would not harm the recovery, and to adopt a balanced and comprehensive medium-term fiscal plan.

US default: Congress votes to end shutdown crisis The Telegraph, Raf Sanchez (17/10/13)
US shutdown: Christine Lagarde calls for stability after debt crisis is averted The Guardian,
James Meikle, Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts (17/10/13)
America’s economy: Meh ceiling? The Economist (15/10/13)
Relief as US approves debt deal BBC News (17/10/13)
Shares in Europe dip after US debt deal BBC News (17/10/13)
Dollar slides as relief at U.S. debt deal fades Reuters, Richard Hubbard (17/10/13)
US debt deal: Analysts relieved rather than celebrating Financial Times, John Aglionby and Josh Noble (17/10/13)
Greenspan fears US government set for more debt stalemate BBC News (21/10/13)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by default and how the concept applies to the USA if it had not suspended or raised its budget ceiling.
  2. Is the agreement of October 16 likely to ‘reassure markets’? Explain your reasoning.
  3. What is likely to happen to long-term interest rates as a result of the agreement?
  4. Will the imposition of a new debt ceiling by February 2014 remove the possibility of using fiscal policy to stimulate aggregate demand and speed up the recovery?
  5. What is meant by ‘buy the rumour, sell the news’ in the context of stock markets? How was this relevant to the agreement on the US debt ceiling and budget?
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Monsoon clouds loom over the Indian economy

The rate of growth in India has fallen to its lowest level since the first three months of 2009 – the period when many countries were plunging into recession. Although the annual rate was still 4.4% in Q2 2013 (a rate most Western governments would love to achieve!), it had averaged 8.2% from 2003 to 2007 and 9.5% from 2010 to 2011 (see).

And the rupee has been falling in value (see chart below). The exchange rate of the rupee to the dollar has depreciated by 21% since the start of the year and by 14% since the beginning of August (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). This has pushed up the price of imports and raised fears that inflation, already approaching 10%, will rise.

There have also been concerns about the health of India’s banking sector, with worries over the possible rise in bad loans.

One result of all these factors is that the confidence of investors has been shaken. Bond prices have fallen and so too have share prices. The Mumbai Sensex index fell by 11.5% from 22 July to 27 August. Worried about possible capital flight, the Indian government imposed capital controls on Indian residents on 14 August. It has, however, since ruled out limiting the outflow of funds by foreign investors.

The following articles and videos look at the causes of the current economic problems and what can be done about them.

Webcasts
India’s sliding economy Aljazeera (24/8/13)
Economic woes grow for Indians as rupee continues to slide BBC News, Sanjoy Majumder (30/8/13)
What is behind the Indian economy’s fall from grace? BBC News, Yogita Limaye (30/8/13)
Indian rupee: How onions reflect health of economy BBC News, Nitin Srivastava (30/8/13)
The rise and fall of India’s economy NDTV (20/8/13)
Is the Indian economy heading for a doom? NDTV, Dr Arvind Virmani, Adi Godrej, P N Vijay, Sanjay Nirupam and Prakash Javadekar (20/7/13)
Can Rajan stabilise India’s economy? FT Video, Stuart Kirk and Julia Grindell (7/8/13)

Articles
India in trouble: The reckoning The Economist (24/8/13)
PM warns of short term shocks, attacks BJP for stalling Parliament The Economic Times of India (31/8/13)
External global factors led to rupee slide: Manmohan in Lok Sabha Hindustan Times (30/8/13)
India seeks allies to defend rupee as growth skids to four-year low Reuters, Manoj Kumar and Frank Jack Daniel (30/8/13)
Rupee charts in uncharted territory Reuters, Saikat Chatterjee and Subhadip Sircar (30/8/13)
Indian Prime Minister Says Rupee Crisis Will Only Make Country Stronger Time World, ilanjana Bhowmick (30/8/13)
Is India in danger of another crisis? BBC News, Linda Yueh (8/8/13)
India’s GDP shows continuing slowdown BBC News (30/8/13)
Slowest India Growth Since 2009 Pressures Singh to Support Rupee Bloomberg, Unni Krishnan (30/8/13)

Questions

  1. Why has the rupee fallen in value so dramatically? Is there likely to have been overshooting?
  2. What are the economic consequences of this large-scale depreciation? Who gain and who lose?
  3. What factors are likely to affect the rate of growth in India over the coming months?
  4. Why is the Indian economy more vulnerable than many other Asian economies?
  5. What economic policies are being pursued by the Indian government? How successful are they likely to be?
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A stock market beauty contest of the machines

Each day many investors anxiously watch the stock market to see if their shares have gone up or down. They may also speculate: buying if they think share prices are likely to go up; selling if they think their shares will fall. But what drives these expectations?

To some extent, people will look at real factors, such as company sales and profits or macroeconomic indicators, such as the rate of economic growth or changes in public-sector borrowing. But to a large extent people are trying to predict what other people will do: how other people will react to changes in various indicators.

John Maynard Keynes observed this phenomenon in Chapter 12 of his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money of 1936. He likened this process of anticipating what other people will do to a newspaper beauty contest, popular at the time. In fact, behaviour of this kind has become known as a Keynesian beauty contest (see also). Keynes wrote that:

professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

When investors focus on people’s likely reactions, it can make markets very unstable. A relatively minor piece of news can cause people to buy or sell in anticipation that others will do the same and that others will realise this and do the same themselves. Markets can overshoot, until, when prices have got out of line with fundamentals, buying can turn into selling, or vice versa. Prices can then move rapidly in the other direction, again driven by what people think other people will do. Sometimes, markets can react to very trivial news indeed. As the New York Times article below states:

On days without much news, the market is simply reacting to itself. And because anxiety is running high, investors make quick, sometimes impulsive, responses to relatively minor events.

The rise of the machine
In recent years there is a new factor to account for growing stock market volatility. The Keynesian beauty contest is increasingly being played by computers. They are programmed to buy and sell when certain conditions are met. The hundreds of human traders of the past who packed trading floors of stock markets, have been largely replaced by just a few programmers, trained to adjust the algorithms of the computers their finance companies use as trading conditions change.

And these computers react in milliseconds to what other computers are doing, which in turn react to what others are doing. Markets can, as a result, suddenly soar or plummet, until the algorithms kick the market into reverse as computers sell over-priced stock or buy under-priced stock, which triggers other computers to do the same.

Robot trading is here to stay. The articles and podcast consider the implications of the ‘games’ they are playing – for savers, companies and the economy.

The Beauty Contest That’s Shaking Wall St. New York Times, Robert J. Schiller (3/9/11)
Speculative bubbles don’t just pop – they may deflate and reflate The Guardian, Robert Shiller (19/7/13)
A dark magic: The rise of the robot traders BBC News, Laurence Knight (8/7/13)
Stock markets under computer control BBC News, Robert Peston
Eunuchs of the Universe: Wall Street Today The Daily Beast, Tom Wolfe (4/1/13)

Questions

  1. Give some other examples of human behaviour which is in the form of a Keynesian beauty contest.
  2. Why may playing a Keynesian beauty contest lead to an undesirable Nash equilibrium?
  3. Does robot trading do anything other than simply increase the speed at which markets adjust?
  4. Can destabilising speculation continue indefinitely? Explain.
  5. Explain what is meant by ‘overshooting’? Why is overshooting likely to occur in stock markets and foreign exchange markets?
  6. In what ways does robot trading (a) benefit and (b) damage the interests of savers?
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The difficult exit from cheap money

Since the beginning of 2009, central banks around the world have operated an extremely loose monetary policy. Their interest rates have been close to zero (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart) and more than $20 trillion of extra money has been injected into the world economy through various programmes of quantitative easing.

The most recent example of loose monetary policy has been in Japan, where substantial quantitative easing has been the first of Japan’s three arrows to revive the economy (the other two being fiscal policy and supply-side policy).

One consequence of a rise in money supply has been the purchase of a range of financial assets, including shares, bonds and commodities. As a result, despite the sluggish or negative growth in most developed countries, stock markets have soared (see chart). From March 2009 to May 2013, the FTSE 100 rose by 91% and both the USA’s Dow Jones Industrial average and Germany’s DAX rose by 129%. Japan’s NIKKEI 225, while changing little from 2009 to 2012, rose by 78% from November 2012 to May 2013 (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart).

The US economy has been showing stronger growth in recent months and, as a result, the Fed has indicated that it may soon have to begin tightening monetary policy. It is not doing so yet, nor are other central banks, but the concern that this may happen in the medium term has been enough to persuade many investors that stock markets are likely to fall as money eventually becomes tighter. Given the high degree of speculation on stock markets, this has led to a large-scale selling of shares as investors try to ‘get ahead of the curve’.

From mid-May to mid-June, the FTSE 100 fell by 6.2%, the Dow Jones by 2.6%, the DAX by 4.5% and the NIKKEI by 15%. In some developing countries, the falls have been steeper as the cheap money that entered their economies in search of higher returns has been leaving. The falls in their stock markets have been accompanied by falls in their exchange rates.

The core of the problem is that most of the extra money that was created by central banks has been used for asset purchase, rather than in financing extra consumer expenditure or capital investment. If money is tightened, it is possible that not only will stock and bond markets fall, but the fragile recovery may be stifled. In other words, tighter money and higher interest rates may indeed affect the real economy, even though loose monetary policy and record low interest rates had only a very modest effect on the real economy.

This poses a very difficult question for central banks. If even the possibility of monetary tightening some time in the future has spooked markets and may rebound on the real economy, does that compel central banks to maintain their loose policy? If it does, will this create an even bigger adjustment problem in the future? Or could there be a ‘soft landing’, whereby real growth absorbs the extra money and gradually eases the inflationary pressure on asset markets?

Articles
How the Fed bosses all BBC News, Robert Peston (12/6/13)
The great reversal? Is the era of cheap money ending? BBC News, Linda Yueh (12/6/13)
The Great Reversal: Part II (volatility and the real economy) BBC News, Linda Yueh (14/6/13)
The end of the affair The Economist (15/6/13)
Out of favour The Economist, Buttonwood (8/6/13)
The Federal Reserve: Clearer, but less cuddly The Economist (22/6/13)
Global financial markets anxious to avoid many pitfalls of ‘political risk’ The Guardian, Heather Stewart (13/6/13)
Dow Falls Below 15,000; Retailers Add to Slump New York Times, (12/6/13)
Global market sell-off over stimulus fears The Telegraph, Rachel Cooper (13/6/13)
Nikkei sinks over 800 points, falls into bear market Globe and Mail (Canada), Lisa Twaronite (13/6/13)
Global shares drop, dollar slumps as rout gathers pace Reuters, Marc Jones (13/6/13)
The G8, the bond bubble and emerging threats BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (17/6/13)
Global monetary policy and the Fed: vive la difference BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (20/6/13)
The Federal Reserve’s dysfunctional relationship with the markets The Guardian, Heidi Moore (19/6/13)
Global stock markets in steep falls after Fed comment BBC News (20/6/13)
Federal Reserve’s QE withdrawal could signal real trouble ahead The Guardian, Nils Pratley (20/6/13)
Central banks told to head for exit Financial Times, Claire Jones (23/6/13)
Stimulating growth threatens stability, central banks warn The Guardian (23/6/13)

BIS Press Release and Report
Making the most of borrowed time: repair and reform the only way to growth, says BIS in 83rd Annual Report BIS Press Release (23/6/13)
83rd BIS Annual Report 2012/2013 Bank for International Settlements (23/6/13)

Data
Yahoo! Finance: see links for FTSE 100, DAX, Dow Jones, NIKKEI 225
Link to central bank websites Bank for International Settlements
Statistical Interactive Database – Interest & exchange rates data Bank of England

Questions

  1. Why have stock markets soared in recent years despite the lack of economic growth?
  2. What is meant by ‘overshooting’? Has overshooting taken place in stock markets (a) up to mid-May this year; (b) since mid-May? How would you establish whether overshooting has taken place?
  3. What role is speculation currently playing in stock markets? Would you describe this speculation as destabilising?
  4. What has been the impact of quantitative easing on (a) bond prices; (b) bond yields?
  5. Argue the case for and against central banks continuing with the policy of quantitative easing for the time being.
  6. Find out how much the Indian rupee and the Brazilian real have fallen in recent weeks. Explain your findings.
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Is the time right for a Tobin tax?

On several occasions in the past on this site we’ve examined proposals for a Tobin tax: see, for example: A ‘Robin Hood’ tax (Feb 2010), Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing (Dec 2009) and A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? (Aug 2009). A Tobin tax is a tax on trading in financial products, sometimes known as a ‘financial transactions tax’ (FTT). It could also be levied on trading in foreign currencies. It is considered in Economics (7th ed) (section 26.3) and Economics for Business (5th ed) (section 32.4).

The tax would be levied at a very low rate: somewhere between 0.01% and 0.5% and would be too small to affect trading in shares or other financial products for purposes of long-term investment. It would, however, dampen speculative trades that take advantage of tiny potential gains from very short-term price movements. Such trades account for huge financial flows between financial institutions around the world and tend to make markets more volatile. The short-term dealers are known as high-frequency traders (HFTs) and their activities now account for the majority of trading on exchanges. Most of these trades are by computers programmed to seek out minute gains and respond in milliseconds. And whilst they add to short-term liquidity for much of the time, this liquidity can suddenly dry up if HFTs become pessimistic.

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has announced that the Commission has adopted the idea of a financial transactions tax with the backing of Germany, France and other eurozone countries. This Tobin tax could be in operation by 2014. According to the Commission, it could raise some €57bn a year. Unlike earlier proposals for a Tobin tax (sometimes called the ‘Robin Hood tax’), the money raised would probably be used to reduce EU deficits, rather than being given in aid to developing countries.

The UK government has been highly critical of the proposal, arguing that, unless adopted world-wide, it would divert trade away from the City of London.

The following articles consider how such a tax would work and its potential advantages and disadvantages.

Theory inches ever closer to practice Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/9/11)
Osborne expected to oppose EU’s proposal for Tobin tax on banks Guardian, Jill Treanor (28/9/11)
Tobin tax could ‘destroy’ business models Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (30/9/11)
Tobin tax is likely, says banking chief Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (5/10/11)
Could a transactions tax be good for capitalism? BBC News, Robert Peston (3/10/11)
EU to propose tax on financial transactions BusinessDay (South Africa), Mariam Isa (5/10/11)
European politicians plot to block UK veto on ‘Tobin tax’ The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (3/10/11)
Opinion Divided on EU Transaction Tax Tax-News, Ulrika Lomas (5/10/11)
Tobin taxes and audit reform: the blizzard from Brussels The Economist (1/10/11)

Questions

  1. What are HFTs and what impact do they have on the stability and liquidity of markets?
  2. Explain how a Tobin tax would work.
  3. What would be the potential advantages and disadvantages of the Tobin tax as proposed by the European Commission (the ‘financial transactions tax’)?
  4. Are financial markets efficient? Can a market be ‘excessively efficient’?
  5. How are ‘execute or cancel’ orders used by HFTs?
  6. Why do HFTs have an asymmetric information advantage?
  7. How does a financial transactions tax differ from the UK’s stamp duty reserve tax?
  8. Explain why the design of the stamp duty tax has prevented the flight of capital and trading from London. Could a Tobin tax be designed in such a way?
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