The Great Depression. Wall Street in 1987. Japan in 1997. Points of economic collapse are generally crystal clear in the rear-view mirror. Professional politicians in Japan have been telling stories for 20 years as to why they can prevent economic stagnation. In the US, the storytelling started in 2007. All the while, stock market and real-estate prices have repeatedly rallied to lower-highs, then collapsed again, to lower-lows.
Markets trade on expectations. Yesterday’s zig-zag in the S&P 500 was unlike most sleepy August trading days in America. That’s because the ‘government is good’ crowd leaked word that this second round of “quantitative easing,” known as QE2, was coming, and that Ben Bernanke was going to respond to our buy-and-hope begging. (The first round of quantitative easing was the Fed’s unprecedented purchase of agency debt to prop up the housing market, along with credit facilities for big banks, which began in 2008 and ended earlier this year.)
To think that we have institutionalized market expectations to this degree is downright frightening. It seems impossible but true that all rallies start and end with rumors about what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, a humble looking man of government, had to say at 2:15 PM EST yesterday afternoon, or any other day he makes a statement.