Market mayhem

When markets begin a downward slide – even for reasons diagnosed as “psychological” – it inevitably means that their finely-tuned feelers pick up unsettling vibes.

Stock exchange figures 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)
Stock exchange figures 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)
Financial markets are renowned for their ultra-sensitive antennae. When markets begin a downward slide – even for reasons diagnosed as “psychological” – it inevitably means that their finely-tuned feelers pick up unsettling vibes.
The great subprime/credit-crunch crisis that gripped the world so menacingly burst upon our scene exactly three years ago. There are those who argue – not unconvincingly – that we haven’t ever quite recovered from that severe downturn; that we only appeared to rebound, but that the underlying ills continue to fester.
Another school of thought contends that what seems to be lurking in the offing is something altogether different, considerably more systemic and thus potentially more devastating.
There are both specific and global forces driving our own jittery markets. We are days away from the hyped Palestinian onslaught in the UN General Assembly, and with it the prospect of more censure and ostracism for perennially beleaguered Israel. This cannot be contemplated with equanimity by local business interests.
Added to this is the palpable precariousness of the peace with Egypt, culminating in the assault on our embassy in Cairo. The entire so-called “Arab Spring” has engendered an air of disconcerting instability into our equation. Turkish diplomatic aggression and bellicosity is another further exacerbating ingredient.
Finally, this summer’s social protests had triggered extraordinary demands on the state budget, amid other ramifications. It has become all the rage to carp against tycoons, but the bonds they issue are in all our portfolios, even unbeknownst to us. When we kick them, we lower the values of our own holdings.
The above aggregate suffices to drive any market down, yet this is only part of the story. Our economy is export-driven but both the US and the Eurozone – where most of our products are earmarked – experience unprecedented woes.
There appears no imaginative leadership out of Washington to rescue America from its overspending syndrome. The fact that the world’s most important economy gets everdeeper into hock depreciates the dollar and warps currency scales worldwide.
The Eurozone has plainly attempted to swallow more than it could chew. What should have been a union of powerful economies has shortsightedly co-opted too many frail freeloaders. Comeuppance is now upon us all – even here in Israel, which should theoretically be unaffected by the mismanagement of the Greek economy, or by Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian foibles.
Yet this isn’t how things work in our globalized reality, which allows no economy to remain a disconnected island.
When nervousness rises in the financial sector, for instance, banks become leery to even lend to each other, as is already apparent overseas. This can easily deteriorate and deny good healthy concerns the leverage they need to prosper. The consequence can impact on faraway economies, like ours, because a gloomy commercial climate elsewhere lowers demand for our exports.
Everything is linked everywhere. On Wednesday Moody’s downgraded two large French banks citing liquidity problems and Greek exposure. The domino effect was instant. Bank shares nose-dived internationally and the Tel Aviv stock exchange proved no exception.
Any experts who presume to predict how all this will turn out shouldn’t be trusted. The fact that we weathered the 2008 crisis better than most doesn’t mean that this is the assured outcome of what may be upon us now. We have no way of ascertaining whether what we face is a calamity-inthe- making or an over-amplified hiccup. Indeed how this may develop isn’t really in our hands.
Incontrovertibly, however, insecurity may lead to irrationality.
The one conclusion we can safely draw from 2008 is that those who panicked lost heavily. To some extent all Israeli households are invested in our markets, even if via comparatively conservative bond holdings by pension, mutual, prudential and trust funds.
Those who rushed to get out three years ago, when their funds hit their nadir, denied themselves the bounceback that occurred only a few months afterward. Alarm is never sound counsel. Not only can patience pay off but impetuosity can turn down-slides into avalanches, inflicting more pain than is inevitable.
If anything, this is the time for extra-strong nerves, restraint and caution.