Robert Shiller isn’t the only Nobel Laureate who’s worried the US stock market is sleepwalking toward disaster.
In an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeanna Smialek, Thaler, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday for his pioneering work in establishing that humans are “predictably irrational”, said that the stock market’s complacency in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat and political uncertainty at home is disconcerting.
“We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping,” Thaler said, speaking by phone on Bloomberg TV. “I admit to not understanding it.”
Adding his voice to a growing chorus of Wall Street analysts who suspect that the Trump administration’s tax reform ambitions will be dashed by a handful of intransigent senators, Thaler said any investors who’ve been paying attention should have “lost confidence” by now.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous, and it seems like when investors are nervous, they’re prone to being spooked,” Thaler said, “Nothing seems to spook the market” and if the gains are based on tax-reform expectations, “surely investors should have lost confidence that that was going to happen.”
US stocks have continued to hit a string of records since President Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton in November while volatility has plunged, with realized vol reaching its lowest level on record in October.
As Bloomberg points out, Thaler, who has made a career of studying irrational and temptation-driven actions among economic actors claimed that the market’s complacency was fundamentally misguided.
Thaler’s comments echoed comments from Shiller, a professor at the Yale School of Management who won his economics Nobel in 2013, who warned during a July interview with CNBC, Shiller expressed concern that his Shiller CAPE ratio had crossed above 30, signaling that equity valuations were dangerously stretched. During the history of the stock market, stocks have only traded at richer valuations during one period - June 1997 to September 2001 - as the dotcom farce blew and burst. Historical data for the index is available going back to 1881.
Thaler also took a shot at President Donald Trump, mocking the president’s fondness for bluster and notorious aversion toward reading books.
“His ratio of certitude to knowledge is nearing record highs,” Thaler said on Bloomberg Radio with Tom Keene and David Gura. “We all need a lot of humility, and especially about the economy.”
He also added that the UK’s vote to leave the European Union was decision based on emotions, not rationality.
“I don’t think that the leave votes were based on any implicit spreadsheet running in people’s heads - it was just like, ‘I’m angry, and I’m voting no,’” he told Bloomberg TV’s Vonnie Quinn and Mark Barton. Of the Brexit process, he said: “It doesn’t seem to be headed in any productive direction.”
Thaler was perhaps one of the world’s best-known contemporary economists before receiving his award. His theory of "nudge" economics, where humans are subtly guided toward beneficial behaviors without heavy-handed intervention, was the theme of a 2008 book that was well received around the world.