The Mother of All Stock-Market Bubbles
(Yahoo News) - By Warren Buffett’s criteria, current stock prices are their most overvalued at least since World War II.
The seemingly relentless rise of the stock market coincides with central-bank balance sheets that have continued to balloon since the Great Financial Crisis. While the major central banks generally do not target stock-market levels directly, a goal of their policies has been to push financial markets towards riskier investments, which, of course, include stocks. Global financial markets are interlinked, so that the actions of international central banks can affect what goes on in the U.S. and vice versa.
The Fed’s December plan was to hold rates at rock bottom levels until unemployment is minimized and inflation surpasses 2 percent, which they expected to take 3 years. Should housing prices continue to appreciate at recent rates, three more years of maximum stimulus would put them well into the GFC danger zone.
The pandemic recovery is moving faster than the Fed and many other forecasters expected. In March 2020, the Fed forecast a 6.5 percent decline for the year. Forecasters surveyed in May by the Philadelphia Fed expected a 5.6 percent decline. 2020’s downturn was 3.5 percent, and these same forecasters expect growth over 4 percent for 2021, so overall recovery is in sight.
The financial markets are already beginning to bring forward their expectations of when the Fed will begin raising rates (about two years), and it would not surprise if this start anticipating an even closer date in due course. . More years of maximum stimulus would further inflate the stock market bubble and possibly create an even more lethal housing bubble as well.
The Fed has been determined to see unemployment all the way down before any tightening, a worthy goal, but even a mild downturn in the wake of a bursting the stock market bubble would have grave consequences following so closely after the pandemic. Creation of another housing bubble would be catastrophic.
Depressed business and labor sectors may not fully recover this year, but all the monetary stimulus in the world won’t convert airplanes, bars, and restaurants into homes, nor flight crew and serving staff into home builders, nor into other booming sectors. When the pandemic permits, cash savings are extremely high, and there is plenty of pent-up demand for these people and their services.
Single-minded focus on just one goal ignores monetary policy’s significant time lags and complex effects throughout an economy. Now is the time for the Fed to plan to stabilize policy and the markets, and this must be carefully communicated and executed to minimize volatility such as 2013’s “taper tantrum.”
While inflation may pop up in the short-term as recovery continues, long-term inflation has been in forty-year decline, so it is unlikely to pose a major problem. The biggest economic risk is financial instability, and, despite its great initial work stanching the pandemic panic, right now the biggest financial instability risk is. . . the Fed.