Liquidity?Global Markets Face `Severe Correction,’ Faber Says

January 16th, 2007

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Marc Faber, the legendary contrarian, predicted the 1987 stock market crash, had this to say. He singled out emerging markets for a correction, especially Russia, followed by China (see China is tightening liquidity) and India. In that correction, all asset markets will be affected.

What is the rationale behind Faber?s prediction?

First, we have to understand the concept of ?liquidity.? What is ?liquidity?? There are other meanings for the word ?liquidity?, but for the purpose of this article, we will stick to the quick and dirty definition of ?liquidity? being ?money? in the financial system. Now, how do we define what is the ?money? in liquidity? Traditionally, ?money? is just what it is?cash and deposits. But today, with the advances in finance, ?money? is no longer as easily and clearly defined as before. As a result, money substitutes are becoming proxies for money and playing a much more important role in global liquidity than before. Examples of money substitutes include credit (e.g. mortgage-backed securities) and derivatives.

Now, what has liquidity got to do with the asset markets?

As you may have noticed, stock markets around the world are in record high territories. What is driving the stock markets is liquidity?the sheer weight of money and money substitutes chasing after a limited supply of assets (bonds, stocks, art, etc), resulting in skyrocketing prices. Therefore, any crunch in liquidity will result in collapsing asset prices.

How is it possible for liquidity to be crunched?

The problem with liquidity is that most of the ?money? in it is made up of money substitutes, most notably derivatives. Today?s modern financial system is such that when the central bank ?creates? money, money substitutes get spawned multiple times. The outcome is a pyramid of ?money,? with hard cash at the apex and derivatives at the bottom. The financial assets between the apex and bottom include cash deposits (spawned and multiplied from hard cash through the fractional reserve banking system) and credit (e.g. securitised debt). In such a liquidity pyramid, the values of financial assets at the lower part of the pyramid are derived from and backed up by the financial assets above it. Since much more of global liquidity are composed of ?money? in the lower part of the pyramid, any contraction in the upper parts of the pyramid will result in a multiplied contraction in the lower parts. If the liquidity contraction is severe enough, asset prices will fall precipitously, which in turn may trigger even more contraction in liquidity. This is called a ?market crash.?

Thus, as long as the central bank can influence the increase in liquidity into the financial system, asset prices will rise. If for whatever reason, liquidity contract severely enough, asset prices will collapse.

The question is, are we now ripe for a contraction in liquidity?

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