Sunday, December 07, 2014

We've Habituated to a Rigged, Fraudulent Market

Fraud generates risk, and risk eventually breaks out in the "safest" parts of the financial plumbing, the ones nobody gives a second thought to because they're "low risk."

Let's go all the way back to the last time a central banker actually spoke the truth in public: December 5, 1996, 18 long years ago. It was on that day that Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan gave a typically dry speech that hinted stocks could actually become overvalued (gasp!) due to irrational exuberance and subsequently plummet when rational valuations returned:

Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?

Global stock markets promptly sold off hard at the shocking revelation that stocks might actually become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions. This sharp reaction to a fundamental truth about markets--that they are prone to the irrational exuberance of participants, and the computer trading programs keyed to this momentum magnify the irrationality--caused central bankers to avoid any upsetting truth from then on.

For the past 18 years, all we have heard is a relentless spew of lies, obfuscations, misdirections and toxic propaganda from central bankers, the most famous examples being we will do whatever it takes and when it becomes serious, you have to lie.

But soon, evasive reassurances were not enough, and central banks had to intervene with unprecedented force to keep markets from collapsing to their "true price discovery" levels. The Fed issued $23 trillion in backstops, guarantees and loans, and other central banks chipped in more trillions. Tens of trillions of credit-money was created and pumped into the financial system to keep gravity from laying waste to trillions of dollars in phantom collateral and assets.

Since the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, central bankers have polished the craft of combining stealthy intervention in the markets and propaganda threats of unleashing unspeakable powers--the oft-repeated and now tiresome we will do whatever it takes.

What few dare to say in public is this intervention and manipulation amounts to officially sanctioned fraud on a global scale. We have become habituated to the fraud because it now plays out on a daily basis: the slightest whiff of weakness in global stocks is immediately met with some central banker or another issuing yet another promise that the unspeakable powers of central banks is poised to be unleashed yet again, inflating overvalued markets to new highs regardless of any real-world conditions.

There are two analogies that help explain our ready acceptance of this coordinated fraud: helicopter parents and a rigged casino.

Central banks act as anxious helicopter parents, hovering above their failing child, the stock market, lest it collapse in a heap the moment central banks stop "helping" it stay aloft with trillions of dollars in free money for financiers and a relentless shrill, keening cry of we will do whatever it takes to keep their precious darling from suffering any real-world consequences.

Thanks to daily central bank intervention, stock markets act as rigged casinos in which players are openly invited to join the roulette game and bet on red--the ball always drops accordingly. Punters can't believe how easy it is to score essentially guaranteed gains, day after day, as the rigged casino pays out. Message boards are filled with punters' gleeful confidence in the central banks' guarantee that the stock market can only loft ever higher, and that there is no such thing as irrational exuberance.

In effect, the exuberance of punters piling into central bank-rigged markets is entirely rational, because the central banks have destroyed lower-risk returns and encouraged punters to play in their no-losses casino.

We've habituated to this global fraud with the greatest of ease because it benefits us. Who can turn down the promise of guaranteed gains forever?

That no market can keep rising forever has been banished from the central bank lexicon. Central banks can push markets higher forever with their unspeakable powers.

Nice, but as I often note here, risk cannot be disappeared, it can only be masked or transferred to others. As I have explained, risk has been transferred to the currency markets, which are too large for central banks to manipulate as easily as stock markets.

The immorality of participating in fraud in never mentioned. It's not very nice to upset the deliriously confident punters who keep betting on red and winning by telling them they are engaging in and abetting fraud. You can't fault winning, even if it's all a transparent fraud.

But fraud generates risk, and risk eventually breaks out in the "safest" parts of the financial plumbing, the ones nobody gives a second thought to because they're "low risk." At some point, the ball will drop in a black slot, and keep dropping in a black slot as incredulous punters keep "buying the dip" and betting on red.

Using unspeakable powers to generate global fraud is not as sustainable as punters imagine. Those who don't believe in risk can alternatively ponder karma as a guide to the future. 

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go to Kindle editionAre you like me? Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.
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Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

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Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers(25 minutes, YouTube) 

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