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Strange Days Indeed

The Economist December 18th 2021 pp15-16|Leaders|America’s Investors|”Situation normal:all bid up” “What doesn’t kill the bull market only makes it stranger”

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Summary by 2244

This opinion piece notes the Guy Debord book “Society of the Spectacle” in which the culture is enthralled with “mass media where appearance is more important than fact and representation is preferred to reality.” Sounds somewhat familiar to our current state and economists today might offer that the stock market today has a “primary role of …entertainment” rather than “capital allocation, or even enrichment” as shares are driven higher and higher by “social media mobs or celebrities selling shares in shell companies.”

Fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) aside, the editors note that “A reckoning feels due” and that is somewhat supported by tough talk by the Federal Reserve’s pledge to end quantitative easing by March 2022 and to begin raising interest rates. But alas the FOMO may push “prices of stocks still higher” after all it’s proved resilient up nearly 40% is the S&P500 since before the pandemic took hold in February 2020. Other factors like “China’s tech backlash and property market troubles” haven’t slowed “the desire to own American shares.” Corporate earnings in 2021 reaffirm their worthiness.

Still longtime market watcher’s would caution at a market that is “40 times its earnings adjusted for the business cycle.” Still IPOs are up, cryptocurrency is now in the mainstream and there is a “growing presence of retail investors” powered by gamified apps and low fees. There may be some signs of slowing-some prices are lower, there’s a “slower pace of launches” and “speculative shares have taken a beating.” ARKS ETF that invests in “fledgling technology companies” has fallen 40%.

Having said all that above, editors suggest that the bull market could still continue fueled by the fact that risk-free rates are still so low that investors will continue to seek these and other riskier assets and that investors now routinely jump-in to “buy-the-dip” reflexively after a fall in the market. The editors note, nonetheless, that “It is easy to forget the sell-offs in 1998-99 as the dotcom bubble inflated.” They worry now that “Real life is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle and ends up absorbing it and aligning itself with it” as Debold wrote in 1967.


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