I’ve been pounding the table pretty hard on investment bubbles lately. Probably because in the last decade, I’ve experienced more popped bubbles than I care to remember.
Or perhaps it’s that I’m constantly amazed by the herding behavior of humans. After all, we’re not that different from the rest of the animals on Earth, so it’s not difficult to believe that if our neighbor, our dentist, the stock analyst on CNBC, and even our local 6 o’clock news anchor says that everyone is doing it, that we’re afraid we’re going to be the Poindexter standing in the corner all by our lonesome.
Hey, if it worked so successfully for Obama’s behavioral psychologist dream team, why shouldn’t the “people want to do what they think others will do” vibe work on investors after the quick buck? It’s not mind control per se, it’s just a few highly intelligent prognosticators coming up with clever ways to get you to do something… before you know you want to do it.
Since I’ve gotten a fair amount of feedback — both for and against the presence of a gold bubble — I thought it would be fun to graphically examine the psychology of an investment bubble as it’s forming and after it has popped.
Moreover, what the emotions are like as different types of investors (value investors, fast money momentum traders, and Everyday Joe retail investors) were thinking as the newest investing fad forms a bubble, then quickly bursts.
More than likely, these are the value investors and buy on the dips investors. They’re probably the most infuriatingly patient and purposely coy investors on the planet because they will wait for months or years to get the right P/E ratio or the bad earnings report, and swoop in to buy as much as they can while it’s cheap as dirt. They really don’t care what the rest of the world is investing in at the time, they just want to get maximum value for their money invested. These are the Warren Buffett’s and Wilber Ross’ of the investing world.
These are the big money institutional investors who pour over stock charts and fundamental analysis screening programs 18 hours a day, and have a dedicated research team to be on the lookout for new opportunities. It’s their job to do the research, read everything down to the 10Ks, and beat the bushes to find the growth of a sector or commodity before anyone else does.
This is when the investment goes 100% mainstream. It will get mentioned in every publication from the Wall Street Journal to The Today Show. This is when the bubble often traps the retail investor by showing past performance and gives the illusion of future appreciation (there is a reason why investments say past performance does not guarantee future returns). Then it begins to act a bit of a euphoric or narcotic like effect where it blinds the part of the brain that says “Wake Up You Smuck!” and all they think about 20% gains in a month and two stock splits a year. In other words, it’s purely unobtainable mania brought about by something proverbially spiking the punchbowl.
Blow Off Phase (aka – Bailout Phase)
Usually accompanied by a “it will come back” mentality and a general lack of comprehension that you’ve just been screwed but haven’t gotten the morning after thank you call. The big institutional investors and fast money traders will have predetermined stop loss orders in place, and when those are tripped in mass quantity, the bottom completely falls out and panic selling begins. The best traders will also begin to pile on the shorts accelerating the sell off. IN the end, the value will be pushed below the historical trendline since we’re just as likely to overreact on the downside just as much as we’ll overreact on the upside.
Who can forget that pesky thing called an oil bubble? You know you loved paying $4 to $5 for a gallon of gas… especially when you drove a SUV that cost around $100 to fill up every five days.
Notice the massive run up to $147 and the horrendous sell off back down to $35 per barrel. It took 5 years to create this bubble, but when it popped, man … look out below! [echos]
See any similarities between this chart, and the psychology of bubbles graphic above?
It almost makes you say WTF! Take a look at the massive deviation from the historical trendline. It begs the question if the real estate bubble was artificially created (thank you Rubin, Greenspan and Wall Street) or if we had legalized marijuana back in 2000 and got happy with the mortgage paperwork.
Who can forget the good ol’ tech bubble? That much loved period when America could do no wrong and any crappy company could create a website and double in value two months later. Sad thing was that these companies had great fundamentals (according to most everyone) and the huge run up in prices was sufficiently validated.
And you were vilified if you said anything to the contrary.
It was such a fiasco that finally in late 2009 — a decade later — that a small number of those high flying tech stocks are finally breaking even on their old 1999-2000 highs.
Now that gold has breached $1000 and apparently destined to above this price point forever, it almost makes you wonder if we’re just setting ourselves up for the same thing.
But take a look at the chart, the newspapers, and the people around you. Can you see the similarities between gold and the rest of these bubbles? Can you connect the dots?
Sure, gold has some good fundamental reasons for being above $1000 per ounce, but if you’re late to the party, do you really want to invest at these levels knowing that going long gold (and shorting the U.S. Dollar) are the most crowded trades on Wall Street in late 2009?
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Disclosure: I’m neither long nor short gold. I’m just a guy on the sidelines making observations about the gold rush.