The Dumb Money is Helping the Smart Money Exit the Stock Market

The Great Recession

Bloomberg this week ran a story telling us how the smart money gets out of the stock market when it hits its all-time peak and how the dumb money helps the smart money out. Only they didn’t know that was what they were writing. It typically happens this way:

At the end of a deliriously euphoric market rally when the market is preparing to crash, all the Joe Sixpacks, mom and pop and the family dog open trading accounts and try to chase the tail of market action. Many throw in their entire retirement funds, pawn the dog’s collar and take out loans on credit cards to buy in as much as they can. By buying in late, they help provide a smooth exit for the smart money. At least for some of it. It is the little guys, tough from hard labor, whose muscles are employed to push the money bags of the rich to the top of the mountain from which the little guys are allowed to jump off. 

That appears to be happening right now. While retail investment (at the mom-and-pop level) in stocks mushroomed last quarter, household debt also mushroomed, jumping at an annual rate of 5.2%, which is the fastest pace since …. 2007. (There is that comparison we keep finding in data everywhere.) Consumer credit rose at an annualized rate of 7.8%. Consumer credit-card debt just topped out at over a trillion dollars, and savings at the same time bottomed out to one of the lowest rates in history.

It’s hard to say with certainty what all that debt all those savings were used for, but the change in both certainly matches the pace of growth in retail stock investments. (The S&P 500 rose 6.1% last quarter, with much of the new money pouring in from retail investors.) With no hard connection in those numbers at my immediate disposal, it would be a fallacy to claim them as proof that people are taking out credit card debt and depleting their savings to buy stocks, but that correlation certainly matches up with anecdotal accounts that many stock brokers are reporting at the street level.

Read the rest here: The Great Recession

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