Bubble here, bubble there, bubbles everywhere. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average smashes the 18,000 mark and marches toward 20,000, it's useful to understand the asset world is awash in a sea of financial bubbles.
The New York Times reported July 7 on the rise of the "everything bubble." Neil Irwin wrote "around the world, every asset class is expensive by historical standard." You name it, it's pricey. That goes from Iowa farmland to Manhattan office towers to junk bonds to New York Stock Exchange-listed Blue Chips. Spain, a financial basket case two years ago when it was rocked by a financial crisis, now has investors snapping up government bonds that are offering the lowest rate since 1789.
Why the global bubble? More money is pouring into savings than businesses believe they can use to make productive investments, according to Irwin. The world's central banks, meanwhile, have kept a lid on interest rates and are creating money from thin air to buy growth in the wake of the financial meltdown.
And what about that meltdown of the very recent past that triggered bailouts of the biggest banks in the world? What global bailout? Happy days are here again.
Makovsky released a poll in June that gauged the current reputation of the financial services sector. The top response at 25 percent was "better than pre-financial crisis." "Back to normal" (17 percent) ranked as the second biggest response. Seventeen percent warned of "more big changes, regulations and shakeout to come" which was followed by "not out of the woods" (15%).
Nearly eight-in-ten (78 percent) of Makovsky's respondents credit the Dodd-Frank Act for restoring trust in Wall Street. Tell that to Republicans who view Dodd-Frank regulations as nothing more than expensive overreach.
Scott Tangney, executive VP at the New York City PR firm, said the 2014 Makovsky Wall Street Reputation Study shows "how far the financial services brands have advanced since the financial crisis."
That obviously is true. But the 20,000 Dow hype is reminiscent of the frothy days of the dotcom bust. The froth sure was fun while it lasted, but the return to reality was painful to millions of Americans and many PR firms.
Dow 20,000 or Dow 10,000
Former Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke has talked about the global savings glut. Companies are saving more, not by choice, but rather because they have crumby spending options. Capital expenditures are slashed in the leading industrial nations of the world, while the much-touted BRIC countries are losing their own investment allure.
Publicis Groupe's globe-trotting chairman Maurice Levy released financials showing a 4.7 drop in revenues from the highly-hyped BRICs and MISST (Mexico, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey) bunch. Similarly, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell reported a slowdown in the Greater China region. Bernake frets that fewer opportunities will result in a surge in investments in risker ventures, which sounds a lot like what led the world's banks into trouble the last time around.
My former boss, Barney Gallagher, who used to talk about the collapse of the so-called "Nifty Fifty" stocks on the 1960s, always called Wall Street "the gambling casino." The Nifty Fifty powered the bull run of the 1960s and 1970s and collapsed in 1982. Gallagher was big on US Treasury bonds.
Savvy financial writers, like John Crudele of the New York Post, believe Wall Street is rigged. He notes that executives slice overhead (e.g., people) and squeeze suppliers to generate earnings to pump up their stock, where they are heavily invested. That well is now pretty much dry. Second quarter earnings are projected to be up 6.2 percent, less than the projected double-growth performance. Revenues inched ahead only 3.5 percent, which is a warning sign of trouble.
Aggressive stock buyback programs, such as the one launched by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, which is the midst of an $80B acquisition offer for Time Warner, further prop up stock prices.
Everybody is an Expert
The truth is nobody knows where the Dow Jones Industrial Average is heading. There is a rash of bullish articles that attempt to justify the march upward and onward. The overriding theme of each is "this time it's different."
The best all-time guidance comes from the legendary investor and former Bear Stearns boss Ace Greenberg. There were thousands of words written in the financial press in the aftermath of the Black Monday carnage of 1987, when the Dow fell 508 points to 1738, a 22.6 percent single-day plunge. This writer remembers only the words of Greenberg, who said, "Markets go up. Markets go down."
Greenberg died today. He was 86. RIP, Ace.
The Dow, by the way, took a bath today. Greenberg would not have been surprised.