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I think the argument that we’re in an income asset bubble is easy to make–deciding when it might burst and what to do about it are much harder

posted on November 23, 2012 at 8:30 am
The End is Near

We are looking at a bubble in the market for income assets.

Money continues to pour into the government bonds of the United States, Japan, Germany and other “safe haven” countries even though yields there are negative after inflation and even though some of these “safe havens” rank among the world’s most indebted governments.

Dividend stocks too have risen to historic highs even as yields have dipped. For example, an index that tracks the Standard & Poor’s “dividend aristocrats,” a basket of 51 stocks that have increased their dividends annually for at least 25 years, hit an all-time high in October.

We all understand the reasons behind this love affair with income assets. Stocks have been scarily volatile for the last decade or more—and threaten to become even more so. The world’s central banks have flooded financial markets with cash, crushing yields, but at the same time promising to keep interest rates extraordinarily low for an extended period, in the formulation of the U.S. Federal Reserve. A sputtering global economy has resulted in low rates of inflation and frequently, in fact, deflation seems a more immediate threat than inflation.

But we know that we’re nearing the end of this cycle. The yield on two-year Treasury notes could drop below the current 0.24%–that’s a negative 1.96% yield at recent U.S. inflation rates—but the yield is unlikely to go below zero. At some point—mid-2015 in the Federal Reserve’s most recent formulation—the world’s central banks will start raising interest rates again. A return to global growth or simple demographic pressures or the aging of the world’s population will lead to higher rates of inflation.

And we all know the big important questions too: When? And What? Knowing what we know—about the likelihood of a bubble and the eventual breaking of that bubble—When do we take action to avoid getting caught up in the bursting of that bubble? And when we take action What do we do? Read more

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