Market Stresses in 2015 Can Have Good Outcome

For the past few months, financial markets have been positioning for a change in Federal Reserve policy to move from “very easy and accommodative” to “easy and accommodative.” The decision of the Fed, finally, to raise short-term lending rates by 25 basis points was met with relief that months of will-they won’t-they were finally over. At the same time, the energy and commodity complex has continued to melt down as prices plummet. The result has been both an unusual amount of turmoil in fixed income markets and a rising chorus of voices anxiously drawing parallels to 2008-2009.

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Spotting Safe and Risky Assets Isn’t So Easy

In today’s investing world, it appears that the search for safety is trumping risk. Although frequent commentary trumpets bubbles in riskier investments, that is not consistent with the hard data on money flows. The result of so much money chasing safety is quite the opposite of what we might want: So much money pouring into assets perceived as safe is actually making those assets riskier. Those riskier assets are attracting less money and fewer players, and as a result, may be safer than they appear. In short, today’s market presents a conundrum: There may be more risk in safety, and more safety in risk.

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Don't Fear Risky Assets

We live in a world that emphasizes risk. That is true in general, but is especially so in the financial world. Since the financial crisis of 2008–2009, financial professionals have been acutely attuned to risk—and for good reason. Too many felt they were caught off-guard and unprepared by the near-implosion of five years ago. That in turn followed volatile periods from the Internet bubble of 1999 into early 2000, through the events of 9/11, and then a sharp market contraction until October 2002. After nearly 15 years of drama, it is hardly surprising that the financial world is primed for risk.

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