Central planning asset purchases aimed at propping up prices destroy the essential price discovery needed by private investors.
Panicked by the possibility of declines that undermine the official narrative that all is well, authorities the world over are purchasing assets like stocks, bonds and mortgages directly. Central banks are explicitly taking on the role of buyers of last resort on the theory that if they place a bid under the market to arrest any decline, private buyers will re-enter the market once they detect that the risk of a drop has dissipated.
The idea is that once private buyers flood back into the market, central banks can unload the assets they bought to stem the panic. In this view, the market is not based on fundamentals such as revenues, profits and price-earnings ratios–it’s all about confidence. If central banks restore confidence by reversing any drop with massive buying, this central-planning manipulation will restore the confidence of private investors.
When this restoration of confidence has been accomplished, private buyers will happily buy the central banks’ stocks, bonds and mortgages. The central banks’ portfolios of assets will shrink and the central banks will once again have “dry powder” to buy assets the next time markets falter.
This sounds reasonable in the abstract, but it doesn’t work in the New Normal economy central banks have created. Let’s consider a simple example to see why.
Let’s start by recalling that prices are set on the margin, i.e. the last view shares, bonds or homes bought/sold. In a neighborhood of 100 houses, the price of each home is based on the last few sales which become the comparablesappraisers use to establish the fair market value of all the nearby properties.
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