Here in Ireland, the traveller gets little news, unless he turns on the TV. And then, he discovers that England is under-water…a fact reported in some parts of the Irish media as a biblical judgment on their old persecutor.
England’s flooding, we now discover, may be a consequence of “global climate change”. Gone is the “global warming” bugaboo. This new tag is a threat for all seasons. Now, it doesn’t matter what the weather does – floods, droughts, heat waves, cold spells – it is all part of the new climate change story. And according to the delusionist we saw on TV this morning, governments had better act fast to get control of it.
How governments can get control of the weather no one is saying. But the message is clear – if something is not done soon, we can expect even more natural calamities in the future.
It is tempting, of course, to take the weather for a market metaphor. Both are natural systems. Both are marked by cyclical patterns, broadly predictable – and punctuated by surprises. There are storms in the financial markets, just as there are in storms in the weather.
Here at Markets and Money, too, we occasionally indulge in a climatic metaphor. “A hard rain’s gonna fall,” we keep saying…and saying…and saying…
But there is a very important difference between the weather and the markets. In nature, you get occasional catastrophes. But, despite the climate change theorists, these episodes of wind and water, heat and cold are not the fault of the human race. At least, not since The Flood. It was not man who caused Vesuvius to erupt, or who swamped Galveston, or caused the creeping freeze of the “Little Ice Age” in Europe, at the end of the middle ages. No, man is innocent. Nature herself is the culprit.
But who caused The Crash of ’29? What made the tech bubble blow up in 2000? Who’s behind the huge run-up in prices in Shanghai in 2007?
Ah, there’s the difference. Nature acts more or less independently of mankind. She may be cruel, but she is not perverse. She does not conspire to bring down a shower only when most people have left their umbrellas at home. Nor does she collude to cause temperatures to drop just when people have forgotten to cut firewood. No, she can be tough, but she is not malicious.
Markets, on the other hand, have a malevolent streak. They get together and cause storms precisely when they will do the most damage.
The crash of the NASDAQ, for example, was caused by the people who bid up prices in the years preceding. In the five years ahead of the 2000 crash, prices rose six times. Had buyers not been so bullish, sellers would not have had so much to sell. In the event, prices fell in half…and then in half again.
The crash did not just happen; it happened because of the bubble in tech shares. A bubble is a natural market phenomenon. But bubbles are created by man; all bubbles are destroyed by men, too. And then, investors are underwater.
Sic transit gloria bubbli.
Markets and Money