The Bubble in Bubbles

Monday, April 11, 2005 | 04:16 PM

There’s a notorious old saying:

Generals always fight the previous war.”

It applies just as much to investing as it does to warfare. Human nature prefers the familiar to the unknown, the comfortable to the strange. Generals study the tactics of prior enemies, while Investors look at market history, seasonal factors and charts to help them come to grip with the unknowable future.

The same can be said for pundits: They have a tendency to be overly influenced by what has come before. Indeed, it is Human nature to be unduly influenced by the most recent data in a series. I suspect this is especially true with those who, last time around, missed the Great Bubble: the / telecom / tech stock bubble of the 1990s.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we currently find ourselves now in a Bull market for Bubbles. There is the housing Bubble, the oil Bubble, the interest rate Bubble. I have read about the import Bubble, the China bubble, the current account deficit Bubble, and the credit debt Bubble.

The Fed does econometric research to see if we can detect Asset Price Bubbles in advance. Several writers believe China is one great big Bubble - if not the nation, than China Net stocks. Some books advise us how to survive Bubbles, while others warn us of the impending Bubble in US foreign policy. From Australia, we learn there is even a Bubble in economic blogs.

In short, we have a Bubble in Bubbles.

Yet if we give careful consideration to the nature of bubbles, we see that most of these are not bubbles at all. They may be assets whose prices are extended - but being overpriced is not the same as being a Bubble. Rapid price appreciation increases the chance of a significant price retracement in the future. But all Bubbles? Hardly.

Bubbles have common characteristics. There is a tendency for prices to move in a parabolic fashion, then the public gets passionately involved. There are ongoing visible rationalizations as to why its different this time - i.e., why valuations are actually reasonable and why the trend will continue far into the future. Lastly, we see valuations that detach from economic reality. But a 25% drop in Home prices is very different from an 80% tech stock collapse.

We advise not taking the wrong lesson from Bubbles past. Instead, Investors should be flexible and adaptable when confronting with the unknown. Reliving the past can be a costly error in the markets - and a fatal one during War.


UPDATE April 18, 2005 10:49pm

Both Business Week and the Los Angeles TImes picked this piece up . . .


A Bubble in Bubbles?
Amey Stone
Business Week 04/11/2005

In 2005, a Rash of Possible Bubbles
Tom Petruno: Market Beat
L.A. TImes, April 17, 2005,1,2296415.column?coll=la-headlines-business-invest




Monday, April 11, 2005 | 04:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (1) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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Barry at The Big Picture points out another popular housing bubble t-shirt, a parody of Mr. Bubble. Barry thinks that the fact that because there are declarations of the bubble everywhere, that it is must not be a bubble. I find that somewhat ir [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 19, 2005 2:27:43 PM


Hmmm ... a bubble in bubbles ... surely there's a way to make money from this phenomenon.

Posted by: praktike | Apr 11, 2005 5:22:46 PM

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