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Why Bubbles Are Like Porn

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Authored by Anthony Saunders via Confounded Interest blog,

Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward said in 1964 in the Jacobellis v. Ohio case, 

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Asset bubbles too are difficult to define, but I know it when I see it.

Take Robert Shiller’s P/E Ratio measure for stocks. There was a Roaring ’20s bubble which burst in 1929 (Black Tuesday), there was the infamous Dot.com bubble. On March 10, 2000, the NASDAQ Composite peaked at 5,132.52, but fell 78% in the following 30 months.

Now we are seemingly in yet another stock market bubble and almost at the P/E Ratio level of the Roaring ’20s bubble (but not near the dizzying heights of the Dot.com bubble … yet).

Stocks do seem awfully “frothy.” But what about home prices? The Case-Shiller 20 composite home price index has grown 43.6% since February 2012.  While home prices are not growing as fast as they did during the home price bubble of the last decade, they are going at a rate that is twice as fast as earnings (wage) growth.

These certainly look like asset bubbles. If it looks like a bubble and acts like a bubble, it probably is a bubble.

“Shhh. Don’t say the word “bubble!”



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