Tag Archives: Bubbles

Indexing Madness or An Indexing Bubble

A must see discussion of today’s index investing distortions

http://horizonkinetics.com/market-commentary/4th-quarter-2016-commentary/   What will turn the tide for active investors. Or read commentary : Q4-2016-Commentary_Final

https://vimeo.com/209940152/f2154e4d3d Grant’s Conference Presentation


Q2 2016 Commentary FINAL (See section on ETFs vs. Individual Stocks)

Articles of interest:

Mark Twain Falls for Silver Fever (A Study in Bubbles)


Silver FeverEvidence of bubbles has accelerated since the [2007-2009 financial] crisis.
~ Robert Shiller (“Irrational Exuberance,” 2015).The celebrated author and humorist Samuel Clemens (pen name Mark Twain) documented his experiences in the Nevada mining stock bubble, and his writings are one of the earliest (and certainly the most humorous) firsthand accounts of involvement in a speculative mania.

After a brief stint as a Confederate militiaman during the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, Clemens purchased stagecoach passage west, to Nevada, where his brother had been appointed Secretary of the Territory. In Nevada, Clemens began working as a reporter in Virginia City, in one of Nevada’s most productive silver- and gold-mining regions. He enviously watched prospecting parties departing into the wilderness, and he quickly became “smitten with the silver fever.”

Clemens and two friends soon went out in search of silver veins in the mountains. As Clemens tells it, they rapidly discovered and laid claim to a rich vein of silver called the Wide West mine. The night after they established their ownership, they were restless and unable to sleep, visited by fantasies of extravagant wealth: “No one can be so thoughtless as to suppose that we slept, that night. Higbie and I went to bed at midnight, but it was only to lie broad awake and think, dream, scheme.”

Clemens reported that in the excitement and confusion of the days following their discovery, he and his two partners failed to begin mining their claim. Under Nevada state law, a claim could be usurped if not worked within 10 days. As they scrambled, they didn’t start working, and they lost their claim to the mine.  His dreams of sudden wealth were momentarily set back.

But Clemens had a keen ear for rumors and new opportunities. Some prospectors who found rich ore veins were selling stock in New York City to raise capital for mining operations. In 1863, Clemens accumulated stocks in several such silver mines, sometimes as payment for working as a journalist. In order to lock in his anticipated gains from the stocks, he made a plan to sell his silver shares either when they reached $100,000 in total value or when Nevada voters approved a state constitution (which he thought would erode their long-term value).

In 1863, funded by his substantial (paper) stock wealth, Clemens retired from journalism. He traveled west to San Francisco to live the high life. He watched his silver mine stock price quotes in the newspaper, and he felt rich: “I lived at the best hotel, exhibited my clothes in the most conspicuous places, infested the opera. . . . I had longed to be a butterfly, and I was one at last.”

Yet after Nevada became a state, Clemens continued to hold on to his stocks, contrary to his plan. Suddenly, the gambling mania on silver stocks ended, and without warning, Clemens found himself virtually broke.

“I, the cheerful idiot that had been squandering money like water, and thought myself beyond the reach of misfortune, had not now as much as fifty dollars when I gathered together my various debts and paid them.”

Clemens was forced to return to journalism to pay his expenses. He lived on meager pay over the next several years. Even after his great literary and lecture-circuit success in the late nineteenth century, he continued to have difficulty investing wisely. In later life he had very public and large debts, and he was forced to work, often much harder than he wanted, to make ends meet for his family.

Clemens had made a plan to sell his silver stock shares when Nevada became a state. His rapid and large gains stoked a sense of invincibility. Soon he deviated from his stock sales plan, stopped paying attention to the market fundamentals, and found himself virtually broke.

Clemens was by no means the first or last person to succumb to mining stock excitement. The World’s Work, an investment periodical published decades later, in the early 1900s, was beset by letters from investors asking for advice on mining stocks. The magazine’s response to these letters was straightforward:  “Emotion plays too large a part in the business of mining stocks. Enthusiasm, lust for gain, gullibility are the real bases of this trading. The sober common sense of the intelligent businessman has no part in such investment.” (from Meir Statman)

While the focus of market manias changes – mining, biotech, Chinese stocks, housing, etc… – the outline of a speculative bubbles remains remarkably similar over the centuries.  Today’s newsletter examines the latest research into speculative bubbles and looks at how we can apply that knowledge, with examples of the recent booms (bubbles?) in Chinese stocks and Biotech.  This newsletter is much longer than usual letter, in part because the topic is both complex and important.  Skip ahead to the end for the Chinese and Biotech conclusions.  Speculative bubbles_2

nasdaq bubble

Hate Math

Poor future returns


Source: http://hussmanfunds.com/wmc/wmc150504.htm

The Problem with Bubbles


housing bubbles

Debt Based Fiathouse distortion

It’s the timing.   Babson was two years early, so by the time the bubble peaked, no one cared.   Sort of like today with six years of easy money/credit and rising prices in the US stock markets.

Note the housing bubble.   Home prices were far above owner’s equivalent rent (the cash flow/income to support home prices) in 2002/2003 but then two to three years later the apex was reached.   Soros in his theory of Reflexivity would propose to ride the bubble knowing you were in a bubble and then reversing course once it burst (the most marginal buyer has bought).  Not easy in the hurly-burly world of investing.

Of Interest and for Reference: Bubbles


I use this blog sometimes as a bulletin board so I can look back in time over events.

Yes, this is an equity bubble:

At present, the major risk to economic stability is not that the stock market is strenuously overvalued, but that so much low-quality debt has been issued, and so many of the assets that support that debt are based on either equities, or corporate profits that rely on record profit margins to be sustained permanently. In short, equity losses are just losses, even if prices fall in half. But credit strains can produce a chain of bankruptcies when the holders are each highly leveraged. That risk has not been removed from the economy by recent Fed policies. If anything, it is being amplified by the day as the volume of low quality credit issuance has again spun out of control. http://www.hussmanfunds.com/wmc/wmc140728.htm

What “Bubble?”  Crazy Chicken (Loco–the next Chipolte?)


Real Estate

Here is a simple exercise that we all should do individually to help us with real estate related decisions:


1.  Extend the above chart for the next 5 years.  What do you think it is going to look like?

2. Give this some thought.  Do you think real estate prices should be inversely proportional to the decline in mortgage rates?

3. Use your own real estate purchase as an example.  Mark the date of purchase and plot its price movements over the above chart.  If you think falling mortgage rates should stimulate prices, is that true in your case?

In conclusion, does Fed policy really have anything to do with the real estate market?  I believe Fed policies have been misguided for far too long, artificially propping up prices that should be much lower.

Whether you agree or disagree, does it appear that the Feds are finally at the end of the rope? http://www.acting-man.com/?p=32011#more-32011


If one wants to identify bubbles, one must perforce study monetary conditions. The comparison of historical data on valuations and other ancillary factors can only take one so far. The problem is that in times of strongly inflationary policy, the economy’s price structure becomes thoroughly distorted, and that therefore a great many “data” can no longer be regarded as reliable. An added complication is that we e.g. cannot know in advance if the effects of the inflationary policy on prices will broaden out or not. Should “inflation expectations” (expectations regarding future CPI rates of change) rise markedly in the future, this would have a major impact on valuations, which would then begin to contract rather than continue to expand.


However, a bubble can easily burst even if this doesn’t happen. Ultimately the question is whether brisk money supply growth will be maintained and whether the economy’s real pool of funding is still large enough to allow for additional diversions of scarce resources into bubble activities. Most of the time, it the eventual slowdown of money supply growth that brings a bubble to its knees.  http://www.acting-man.com/?p=32003#more-32003

Predicting is hard

A bullish call:

“Conditions for a hard economic landing — like slack in the labor market and weak balance sheets — are still largely absent.”

If the case for U.S. stocks is built on global growth and lower interest rates, other factors, too, suggest that the market is heading higher. For one, Washington is determined to avert a financial disaster, particularly in an election year….

Bull markets rarely end when the earnings yield on stocks — now around 6% — is higher than benchmark bond yields.

While some fear this year’s peak profit margins will wane, __________ says “margins will prove sticky at a high level” after years of cost-cutting. A 35% decline in leverage in the past five to seven years has made for healthier balance sheets, and continued stock buybacks are likely to keep boosting earnings per share.

Then there’s the market’s modest valuation. The S&P 500 trades today at just 15.6 times average estimated earnings — well below the average P/E of 18.6 times earnings during periods when inflation was at similarly muted levels in the past 57 years…

Stocks are “screamingly cheap relative to bonds.”

“The right time to get more aggressive [about the stock market] is closer to the end of the Fed’s easing cycle,”

“While the first half may look like death, second-half earnings will improve….

“The consumer is not dead!”

What’s more, the richest 20% of Americans drive 40% of the country’s consumer spending, and their outlays are less restrained by rising gasoline prices and higher mortgage rates. Dated Dec. 17, 2007

I think most investors have the wrong idea about what it means to be bullish or bearish about an asset class such as stocks. Being bullish or bearish is not an all or none decision. Believing that the US stock market is richly priced does not mean that all US stocks are richly priced. It just means that the market, taken as a whole, is priced at a level that involves an above average level of risk. That risk, as last year so amply demonstrated, may not be realized in the short run or even what some might consider the long run. But the risk still exists and investors should take it into account when allocating their assets.

Peter Bernstein, one of the greatest investors who ever lived, once said: Survival is the only road to riches. What that means to me is that, in a world where the future is unpredictable (that would be the one we live in), one must take into account the worst case scenario as an investor. What you shouldn’t do, as the quotes above prove, is take conditions as they exist today and assume they will continue into the future. Profit margins are always high when the economy is expanding and they always fall in a recession. You may not know when a recession will come but you know it will. Survival investing dictates that you take into account what happens to margins in a recession. Stock buybacks – at least since tax reform made them preferable – are always high when things are good and always disappear when the market needs them most.

You don’t have to know exactly how things will change just that they will. In any scenario with multiple potential outcomes you have to at least consider all the alternatives. No matter what you expect, you have to assign some probability to the opposite outcome. If you believe the economy will accelerate in the second half of the year, what are the consequences of being wrong? In a highly priced market, being wrong about future growth could prove quite costly. It is the consequences of being wrong that reveal your true risk level.


Chris Mayer: The US Debt Crisis That Will Never Happen  Posted July 23, 2014

Epstein doesn’t seem to understand that the U.S. government doesn’t need to borrow what it creates. The U.S. government creates dollars. The U.S. government doesn’t need to borrow them to spend them. This seems so simple to me it’s hard to believe anyone would believe otherwise.

… There is an economist, Scott Fullwiler, who explained this in a post at the New Economic Perspectives blog site:

“A currency-issuing government under flexible exchange rates can’t have such crises, because it doesn’t need to borrow its money; interest rates on its debt are a monetary policy variable. The doomsayers have been at this for decades now, but have not explained why the U.S., U.K. and Japan ran continually large deficits starting in 2008 at low interest rates while Greece, Spain, Italy, etc., could not… At some point, one would think the ‘U.S. could become Greece’ argument would be widely recognized as fraudulent, but if you’re in the wrong paradigm, it’s difficult to accept even a simple explanation of why the paradigm is wrong.”

Hopefully, you can accept a simple explanation.

It’s true there are constraints. For example, there’s the debt ceiling. But this is a self-imposed restriction.

There is no reason why the U.S. should have a fiscal crisis of any sort. Such a crisis could only be self-imposed. So the real risk is that policymakers don’t understand how their own fiat currency works. The real risk is that they listen to the CBO.

.. If you don’t get the realities, then you invest foolishly. If you believe Epstein is right, then you’ll likely miss out on all kinds of great investment ideas because you’ll be afraid of a looming debt crisis. Instead, you’ll put your money in junky gold stocks — as if that will protect you!

(What do YOU think?)

VIDEO: Austrian vs Modern Monetary Theory Debate

Inflation rearing its head in Dollar Based Panama:

Locals and foreigners alike pay US dollars for goods and services across Panama just as you would in Houston, Jacksonville, or Las Vegas.

This means that the country is subject to all the whims and consequences of US monetary policy; when the Fed conjures money out of thin air, the negative effects are quickly exported to Panama.

Yet while it suffers all of the downside of quantitative easing, Panama enjoys very little of the upside. Of the jobs that the Fed claims they have created by printing $3.7 trillion over the last few years, zero of those have ended up in Panama. Not to mention, the Panamanian government doesn’t have an endless supply of foreigners lining up to buy its debt.

So to get a true sense of US dollar inflation… and where it’s headed in the Land of the Free… one only need look at dollarized countries like Panama.

More.. no-inflation-friday-dollarized-panama-issues-price-controls-basic-goods


James Grant; Corning the Gold Market; the 1960’s Bowling Bubble

James Grant’s speech about the Federal Reservehttp://csinvesting.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=2620&action=edit#

How to corner the gold market: http://www.tavakolistructuredfinance.com/2010/03/corner-gold-market/

The 1960 Bowling Bubble: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/let-the-good-times-roll-the-incredible-bowling-bubble-of-the-1960s/359787/

The History of Trading in the Pits; Much More

Trading Pits

The successful investor is a master of paradox. He expects the unexpected, distrusts the experts and loves what the majority hates. He believes that, in markets as in heaven, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

There’s fool’s gold–pyrite–and then there’s fools’ gold owned by idiots who will trade it for worthless dollars.

History of the trading pits: http://www.tradingpitblog.com/ Great blog!

What is money? What is money_ TTMYGH_17_Feb_2014

Assessing Long-Term Account Performance


Hard wired for bubbles (Dan Ariely)


Thinking properly about “cash sitting on the sidelines.” Or how to think properly. http://www.acting-man.com/?p=28594

Rick Rule on Gold Miners and Gold (Of course, when you ask a barber if you need a haircut…..But, he has a lot of experience in these markets.  Survival is proof enough of competence in the miners!


Rick Rule: We’ve said on your interviews, ‘You’ve suffered through the pain, why not hang around for the gain?’  I think we’re in the beginning of the gain session.  Your readers and listeners, at least those who are new to the sector, need to understand that we are in a rising channel, but we are in a rising channel that is going to have higher highs and higher lows….

It’s going to be volatile.  You are going to see 15% declines, and you are going to see 20% gains for seemingly no reason.  The important thing to note is that I certainly believe the precious metals sector and the precious metals shares have bottomed and they are moving up.

We’re tempted to say that the bottom was reached and the recovery in the junior shares began in July of last year.  Certainly, November, December, and January have seen pretty good rises — 40% share price escalations have not been uncommon.

It is not uncommon for well-constructed portfolios in a precious metals market recovery to experience five-fold or ten-fold gains.  So for those people who went through the downturn and are now beginning to experience the upturn, firstly, congratulations.  And second, keep your seatbelt on.  It’s going to be very volatile but I think we are higher, probably substantially higher from here.” 


Eric King:  “William Kaye, the outspoken hedge fund manager from Hong Kong, was telling King World News that demand (for gold) out of China is just ‘insatiable.’  Your thoughts on the physical demand we’ve seen around the globe — it’s been quite stunning.”

Rule:  “He would know better than I with regard to Hong Kong demand, but certainly we’ve seen very strong physical demand from around the world.  A lot of the physical demand has taken place right here in the United States.

What’s interesting about his (Kaye’s) statement is the dichotomy between the private physical markets and the long-term markets.  I can’t help going back to an announcement about 12 months ago, when the Germans wanted to repatriate their 1,500 tons of gold, and they were told by the US government that it would take seven years (to get back only 300 tons of gold) that was theirs.

At the same time, over 30 days, in the physical market, Chinese retail buyers bought and took delivery of 1,120 tons of gold.  One of the things that this points out is the very, very odd dichotomy between central bank and multilateral institutional holdings of gold, and the paper gold market on one side, and the honesty of the physical market on the other side.  

My suspicion is that the physical market is prevailing and will continue to prevail over the paper market.  And the subtext of this is that the documented large (gold) short positions that exist in the paper market may get their long awaited religious experience as they are unable to deliver against futures obligations.”

from www.kingworldnews.com

Seth Klarman on investing vs speculating:

Mark Twain said that there are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it and when he can. Because this is so, understanding the difference between investment and speculation is the first step in achieving investment success.

To investors stocks represent fractional ownership of underlying businesses and bonds are loans to those businesses. Investors make buy and sell decisions on the basis of the current prices of securities compared with the perceived values of those securities. They transact when they think they know something that others don’t know, don’t care about, or prefer to ignore. They buy securities that appear to offer attractive return for the risk incurred and sell when the return no longer justifies the risk.

Investors believe that over the long run security prices tend to reflect fundamental developments involving the underlying businesses. Investors in a stock thus expect to profit in at least one of three possible ways: from free cash flow generated by the underlying business, which eventually will be reflected in a higher share price or distributed as dividends; from an increase in the multiple that investors are willing to pay for the underlying business as reflected in a higher share price; or by a narrowing of the gap between share price and underlying business value.

Speculators, by contrast, buy and sell securities based on whether they believe those securities will next rise or fall in price. Their judgment regarding future price movements is based, not on fundamentals, but on a prediction of the behavior of others. They regard securities as pieces of paper to be swapped back and forth and are generally ignorant of or indifferent to investment fundamentals. They buy securities because they “act” well and sell when they don’t. Indeed, even if it were certain that the world would end tomorrow, it is likely that some speculators would continue to trade securities based on what they thought the market would do today.

Speculators are obsessed with predicting – guessing – the direction of stock prices. Every morning on cable television, every afternoon on the stock market report, every weekend in Barron’s, every week in dozens of market newsletters, and whenever businesspeople get together, there is rampant conjecture on where the market is heading. Many speculators attempt to predict the market direction by using technical analysis – past stock price fluctuations – as a guide. Technical analysis is based on the presumption that past share price meanderings, rather than underlying business value, hold the key to future stock prices. In reality, no one knows what the market will do; trying to predict it is a waste of time, and investing based upon that prediction is a speculative undertaking.

Market participants do not wear badges that identify them as investors or speculators. It is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart without studying their behavior at length. Examining what they own is not a giveaway, for any security can be owned by investors, speculators, or both. Indeed, many “investment professionals” actually perform as speculators much of the time because of the way they define their mission, pursuing short-term trading profits from predictions of market fluctuations rather than long-term investment profits based on business fundamentals. As we shall see, investors have a reasonable chance of achieving long-term investment success; speculators, by contrast, are likely to lose money over time. www.shortsideoflong.com

John Law and the Mississippi Bubble; Other Bubbles; Value?

John Law and the Mississippi Bubble by Richard Condie, National Film Board of Canada   A video worth the view.






Margin Debt


Yes, we must be careful but there are–perhaps–pockets of value?

XOM_Nov 2013   You can see why Buffett recently bought XOM. Note the dotted line on the Value-Line. XOM has “underperformed” the general market for the past five years. But XOM is a better than average company trading far below the market multiple. You won’t get rich quick but you won’t lose it all either.  He probably sees XOM as an inflation pass-through.

ESRX_Nov 2013 Note the decline on ROA. Since this is in an oligopolistic industry perhaps a reversion to higher margins can occur.  I do not own either one.

Are bitcoins money? Bitcoin-CMRE

Why, if gold demand from Asia is so high and with inventories draining from GLD and the Comex, are gold prices soft? Stress in the collateral markets?





When the problem presents itself, turn away from it, put it out of your mind completely and think of something that pertains to God, such as God is love or God is truth, but you must keep the problem completely out of mind.  This is the simple Golden Key which the great Emmet Fox recommends.  It may sound too absurdly simple, it may sound like voodoo, but before you sneer at it and ignore it, first try it.  I’ve used it many times and I can tell you that it works.  The concept of the Golden Key is probably worth years of subscriptions to Dow Theory Letters.  Use the Golden Key.


Skyscraper Index in China plus Boom, Bubble, and Bust Course!

Skyscraper Index bMises Updates         Friday, August 23rd, 2013

In the French daily Le Monde, Mark Thornton recently commented on the ongoing drive to build more and more skyscrapers in China.

In a feature from the business section entitled “Les villes chinoises veulent toutes leurs gratte-ciel géants,” La Mondetakes note of the phenomenon that is the skyscraper-dense Chinese city, and specifically, the completion of Shanghai Tower, now one of the tallest buildings in Asia.


Mises Academy


Bubbles, Booms, and Busts

 Econ_BBB_2013_D — with Mark Thornton


This course will cover special topics in Austrian Business Cycle Theory, including the “Skyscraper Index,” the art of predicting downturns, and the causes of the housing bubble and burst that led to the 2008 financial crisis.


Lectures will be Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time.


All readings will be free and online. A fully hyper-linked syllabus with readings for each weekly topic will be available for all students.

Grades and Certificates

The final grade will depend on quizzes. Taking the course for a grade is optional. This course is worth 3 credits in Mises Academy. Feel free to ask your school to accept Mises Academy credits. You will receive a digital Certificate of Completion for this course if you take it for a grade, and a Certificate of Participation if you take it on a paid-audit basis.

Refund Policy

If you drop the course during its first week (7 calendar days), you will receive a full refund, minus a $25 processing fee. If you drop the course during its second week, you will receive a half refund. No refunds will be granted following the second week.



Mark Thornton is an American economist of the Austrian School.[1] Thornton has been described by the Advocates for Self-Government as “one of America’s experts on the economics of illegal drugs.”[2] Thornton has written extensively on that topic, as well as on the economics of the American Civil War, economic bubbles, and public finance. He successfully predicted the housing bubble, the top in home builder stocks, the bust in housing and the world economic crisis.

Thornton received his B.S. from St. Bonaventure University (1982), and his Ph.D. fromAuburn University (1989). Thornton taught economics at Auburn University for a number of years, additionally serving as founding faculty advisor for the Auburn University Libertarians. He also served on the faculty of Columbus State University, and is now a senior fellow and resident faculty member at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.[3] He is currently the Book Review Editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.[4]


Libertarian organizations including the Independent Institute,[5] the Cato Institute,[6] and the Mises Institute have published Thornton’s writings on drug prohibition and prohibition in general. Thornton contributed a chapter[7] to Jefferson Fish‘s book How to Legalize Drugs. He has also been interviewed on the topic of prohibition by members of the mainstream press. His research and publications are the basis of the Iron Law of Prohibition which states that the enforcement of prohibition increases the potency and danger of consuming illegal drugs. [8] Thornton’s first book, The Economics of Prohibition, was praised by Murray Rothbard, who declared:

Thornton’s book… arrives to fill an enormous gap, and it does so splendidly…. The drug prohibition question is… the hottest political topic today, and for the foreseeable future…. This is an excellent work making an important contribution to scholarship as well as to the public policy debate.


Thornton has also written on economic bubbles, including the United States housing bubble, which he first described in February 2004.[9][10][11] He suggested that the “housing bubble might be coming to an end” in August 2005.[12] His work on market bubbles has been cited by journalists[13][14] and other writers.[15][16] Economist Joseph Salerno noted that “Mark Thornton of the Mises Institute was one of the first to jump on this—to start writing about the housing bubble.”[17] Similarly, economist Thomas DiLorenzo has written that “[i]t was Austrian economists like Mark Thornton . . . who were warning of a housing bubble years before it burst.”[1] He also called the top in the housing market. He developed and published his Skyscraper and Business Cycle model in 2005.[13] His Skyscraper Index Model successfully sent a signal of the Late-2000s financial crisis at the beginning of August 2007. [14][15]

Political activities

Thornton has also been active in the political arena, making his first bid for office in 1984, when he ran for the U.S. Congress. He became the first Libertarian Party office-holder in Alabama when he was elected Constable in 1988. He was the Libertarian Party Candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1996 (also endorsed by the Reform Party) coming in third of four candidates. Thornton also served in various capacities with the Libertarian Party of Alabama including Vice Chairman and Chairman. In 1997 he became the Assistant Superintendent of Banking and a economic analyst for Alabama Governor,Fob James.[2]

Thornton has been featured as a guest on a variety of radio and internet programs and his editorials and interviews have appeared in leading newspapers and magazines.



The Oslo (Housing Bubble) Syndrome

OSLOThe Oslo Housing Bubble Syndrome
Mises Daily: Monday, January 07, 2013 by Mark Thornton (An important market to track in our study of booms and busts.)

The Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon whereby hostages develop irrational sympathy toward their captors even to the point of defending their captors in subsequent investigations and criminal trials. While this applies to individuals or small groups, the Oslo syndrome applies to whole national populations.

In The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege (Smith and Kraus Global, 2005), Kenneth Levin describes a “psychological response common among chronically besieged populations, whether minorities subjected to defamation, discrimination and assault or small nations under persistent attack by their neighbors. People living under such stressful conditions often choose to accept at face value the indictments of their accusers in the hope of thereby escaping their predicament.”[1]

Actually, the Oslo syndrome applies to all people living in socialist states. The state tells people what to do, forces people into public schools to be indoctrinated, tells people what we can and cannot consume, uses police power, and punishes people who do not do what they are told, and throws people into prisons if they continue to live the way they choose. The state’s system leads most to just accept things as they are as if it were the only possible way of life. Given that the Oslo syndrome applies to an entire nation, and that Norway is living through what will hopefully be the final housing bubble of this cycle, I thought it appropriate to dub the psychological phenomenon associated with housing bubbles, the “Oslo housing bubble syndrome.” This psychological phenomenon is the “irrational” response of people living in a bubble economy. They ignore or dismiss signs of a bubble and instead attribute their good luck (i.e. higher home prices) to “fundamental factors” that appear to substantiate high prices in real estate or stocks.

Do not get me wrong. The business cycle is not a psychological phenomenon. However, it does impact mass psychology. If a central bank is intent on expanding the money supply with an easy money policy, then some bankers are going to make additional loans and seek out new clients to lend money to. The bankers will be rewarded and their clients will be happy. As the boom plays out, people make big gains and are euphoric and even manic. The boom eventually turns to bust. Many of the same people who were making big gains are now seeing their profits turn into losses, or even foreclosures or bankruptcies. As a result, they become depressed.

The reason that booms turn into busts is that the artificial expansion of credit leads entrepreneurs to embark on many new investment projects that expand the structure of production. The new investment projects eventually cause new constraints to develop. These new developments could not be anticipated by entrepreneurs as a whole.

First, all of these new investment projects place strains on the availability of resources and inputs. Therefore their costs are greater than they anticipated. For example, the price of oil and the wages of specialized labor increase as the bubble proceeds to the peak. Second, as the prices of things like food, energy, and other products with inelastic demand rises, customers have less income available to buy their products. Third, as more of these new investment projects come online and start supplying their products, they are faced with increased competition, again more than they could have anticipated. The result is that their investment projects are now faced with higher costs, fewer customers, and more competitors. This is a recipe for disaster that results in the realization of a cluster of entrepreneurial errors.
If your nation’s economy has not had a bubble in many years it is not surprising that people are shocked when the bubble bursts. However, Norwegians have surely noticed what has happened in the US and PIGS, or even closer to home, in Ireland, the UK, and Iceland. Despite what they have seen there are still those who claim that Norwegian housing prices are genuine. Norwegians have, in a sense, been “psychologically conditioned,” and, as with the Stockholm and Oslo syndromes, are doing precisely the opposite of what they should be doing. A similar phenomenon happened in the US, around 2005, when people were often heard to be saying that “housing prices never go down,” or that “you can’t lose money by investing in real estate.”

There appear to be housing bubbles across Europe with the exception of the PIIIGS (Portugal, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain), but the Norwegian bubble seems to be the strongest one. The chart below shows that housing prices in Norway have increased by nearly 300% in the last twenty years.

Oslo home prices

2012 © Statistics Norway
It should be clear from the following chart that the rise in home prices is not the result of rising costs of production or general price inflation, both of which have been relatively tame given the increase in construction and the general expansion in the Norwegian economy.

Hiousing costs and consumer prices
2012 © Statistics Norway
What explains the large increase in prices is an increase in the demand for housing. Part of this increased demand takes the form of people simply being unwilling to put homes on the market in the face of persistently rising home prices. The increase in housing prices has been sustained for a very long time and this would seem to support the idea that the price increases are based on fundamental factors. In the US, housing prices rose much less and for a shorter period of time. According to an analysis by the Federal Reserve, prices have fallen about 40% in the US since peaking in 2006. Since that time housing prices in Norway have increased another 30%.
Real House Price Index

Real house prices
Sources: Shiller (2005) and Eitrheim and Erlandsen (2004, 2005).

The US has many fundamental flaws in its economy including a large government budget deficit, a large trade deficit, expanding national debt, and exploding, unfunded financial liabilities related to health care and retirees. In contrast, Norway has none of these problems and several factors that suggest that the Norwegian economy is fundamentally sound. It has a large trade surplus and government budget surplus (both have been averaging around 14% of GDP) due to substantial oil revenues that are also building a very large sovereign wealth fund. The fund is approaching $700 billion dollars (Norway’s population is approximately 5 million).

The unemployment rate in Norway has been averaging around 3% which would be considered well below the “natural unemployment rate” in the US (thought to be around 6%). Therefore, Norway has one of the best unemployment rates in its region, in Europe, and even globally. The C.P.I. measure of price inflation in Norway has been around 1%, again one of the best in the world. Real G.D.P. growth has been about 3% and is expected to continue on that path into the future. This growth rate would be consistent with full employment. It is almost too good to be true.

So the fundamental picture does support the impression that housing prices are real. Another factor that supports a “fundamental” view of housing prices is that Oslo, the capital city with almost 1/5th of the nation’s population, has land-use restrictions that keep much land unavailable for construction. This is the same fundamental case that was given for the severe housing bubble in Las Vegas: the government prevented land from being developed. Housing prices in Oslo, however, have not risen much more than the average increase. The largest increases have occurred in areas associated with the oil and oil exploration business.

We cannot know for certain that Norway is experiencing a bubble. However the reasons we suspect a bubble starts with their economy. Norway’s rosy economy is not the result of good policy, but of oil revenues that subsidize their socialist government. Norway ranks 40th on the Freedom Index, below Belgium (38) and Armenia (39), and only above countries like El Salvador (41) and Peru (42). A steep drop in oil prices would be a severe blow to their economy. However, as oil revenues are continuing to pour into the government budget and sovereign wealth fund, it makes the Norwegian economy look like a good bet.

That image is particularly compelling compared to other economies across the globe. All the world’s major economies (i.e., the US, EU, China, and Japan) appear to be tottering on the verge of disaster. Currencies seem to be particularly dangerous given the Bernanke regime of “coordinated” quantitative easing by central banks. The euro is considered most at risk because of a potential uncoordinated currency break up. This threat has resulted in a decreased demand for the euro and an increased demand for alternative currencies from safe countries, such as the Swiss franc and the Norwegian krone.

Instead of allowing the krone to increase in value with this increase in demand, the Norwegian central bank, the Norges Bank, has instead countered with an increase of supply. They have intentionally set interest rates artificial low. The overnight deposit rate has been set at 1.5 percent since last December. They are trying to prevent the krone from appreciating in value, but their efforts have not been completely successful. Preventing this appreciation of the krone is intended to protect exporters, including their national oil company. However, it also helps pump up the housing bubble.

Monetary inflation, as measured by Norway’s M2 measure of the money supply, has lately been running at 8%. During the economic crisis, circa 2007, it ran as high as 20%. From 2008 to the present monetary inflation has averaged about 7.5%.[2]

The result is that Norway is experiencing low price inflation, except in housing and there is still upward pressure on the value of the krone. With central banks around the globe setting interest rates outrageously low it makes it difficult for the Norges Bank to act to raise rates. Higher interest rates would help deflate the housing bubble, but they have failed to implement such a policy.[3] With central bankers embarking on an inflationary death march, the Norges Bank has found itself seemingly trapped into following their policy of ultra low interest rates and monetary inflation.

This is incongruous given that the Norway chose to keep its monetary independence and stay out of the euro zone. It is also unnecessary because the Norges Bank has a policy option.

If the central bank did act and raised interest rates and simply allowed their currency to float, the krone would appreciate and Norwegian savers would get a windfall as the value of their savings increased. This would encourage them to work more, save more, and become wealthy. Every krone would buy more goods from around the world and would buy even more goods tomorrow than today. This appreciation would indeed hurt exporters, such as oil and cheese exporters, but most importantly it would stop and reverse the housing bubble before things get even worse and more distorted.

As usual, with policy decisions it is a matter of making a people wealthier or making a people poorer. In the case of the Oslo housing bubble syndrome, it looks like poorer will win out again.




Emphasis on Global Crossing Case; Good Health

A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. –Steven Wright

Every man who says frankly and fully what he things is so far doing a public service. We should be grateful to him for attacking most unsparingly our most cherished opinions. –Sir Leslie Stephen

Know The Global Crossing Case Cold

I joke while presenting the Global Crossing case, but you should spend time to really understand what happened and why.  Always in these situations there is much noise and hoopla over new technology, massive growth, booming profits, etc. But you have to stand back to listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1INb5FM_1lE&feature=related.  Obviously, growth does not occur without investment, and growth without profits is DESTRUCTIVE.

….And think strategically. A friend took out margin to buy a huge bundle of out of the money puts on Global Crossing and Level Three (LVLT).   See the chart on LVLT here—the collapse will take your breath away. http://www.scribd.com/doc/77916697/Lvlt-Chart.

I asked him, “Are you out of your $%^&*! Mind? What the heck is the matter with you?” He replied serenely, “Have you ever read The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton M. Christensen and the Disk Drive Industry?” http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides_i/innovators_dilemma3.asp

“No,” I said, “I am too busy reading the Lehman report on Global Crossing.”

Research by Lehman on Telecom, Fiber Optics and Global Crossing 1998 http://goodbadstrategy.com/wp-content/downloads/LehmanReport.pdf

“Too bad,” he replied. “Because it is the same situation with the telecom companies only worse.  (WHAT is the situation he is talking about____?) Ask yourself what is the WORST industry structure you could possibly design to destroy profits?  Sometimes it is easier to know which companies will face certain death than pick the winners. Also, here is the coup de grace—what happens when marginal costs decline to $0.00!?”

One more time: “Can anyone tell me in two or three words what is the first thing when looking at a company/industry? _____  _____  ______

At the end of the weekend, there will be an analysis of the Global Crossing Case.

So what happened to my friend? Here he is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmMS9nvi6eg&feature=related


At the age of 97 years and 4 months, Shigeaki Hinohara is one of the world’s longest-serving physicians and educators. His secrets to a healthy long life:


Podcast on Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes: http://www.lewrockwell.com/lewrockwell-show/2012/01/11/247-why-we-get-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it/