Marc Faber is a very knowledgeable guy, but thumbing through a copy of his most recent Gloom, Boom, & Doom Report, I stumbled on a pretty big error. Here is Faber:
"All the liquidity that central banks have created isn't flowing into the real economy but remains in asset markets (mostly financial markets) buying and selling currencies, bonds, stocks, real estate, art, entire companies, etc. For example, most corporations find it advantageous to buy back their own shares (in order to boost their share prices) instead of investing in new plant and equipment... Or take wealthy individuals as another example. Most of them invest in stocks, bonds, funds or real estate; very few of them go out and build businesses. Private equity funds do the same: instead of building new businesses, they tend to buy existing assets."and later on:
"I believe that as long as savings and newly created fiat money flow into booming and speculative asset markets, real economic activity will remain depressed."Faber is repeating a very old fallacy that goes something like this: new money and credit can stay tied up in financial markets indefinitely. This unproductive absorption of capital by speculators in turn prevents the real economy from benefiting. New buildings and factories go unbuilt, consumer goods go unsold, and cutting- edge technology goes undeveloped because the stock market 'sucks up' all the money.
Marc Faber styles himself as an Austrian economist, so he should know that Fritz Machlup, an Austrian 'fellow-traveller', dealt with this particular fallacy in his 1940 book The Stock Market, Credit and Capital Formation (pdf).
In a nutshell, newly-created money (or already existing money) that flows into stock and bond markets does not enter a financial black hole. For every buyer there is a seller. By definition, money will flow away from the market on which it is spent just as quickly as it enters it.
Here is the argument in more depth. Say that Frank (for lack of a better name) invests fresh money in a new issue of corporate shares. These funds don't fall into an abyss. Rather, the issuing company now owns them and uses them to build a factory. Faber would approve since machinery is being created from scratch.
But even if Frank uses the new money to buy already-issued shares rather than newly-issued shares, these funds don't get sucked into a vortex. They are now held by the seller of the used shares, Tom. And the moment Tom uses these funds to buy a car or invest in his home business, they are released into the real economy.
Of course, Tom might simply reinvest the funds earned on the sale in another stock or bond. But this changes nothing since an entirely new seller, Sally, comes into ownership of the funds. Like Tom, Sally might choose to invest it in real capital or on consumption, the real economy enjoying the benefits. Or she might choose to reinvest in the stock market, selling to Harry, and so on and so on. But even if the next ten or twenty recipients of Frank's newly-created money all choose to reinvest those funds in equities, the stock market is nothing akin to a black hole. At some point along the chain the money will inevitably arrive in the account of an investor who chooses to dispatch it to the so-called real economy by either purchasing consumption goods, services, or some sort of industrial good. Though the chain along which this money might travel can include many people along the way, when it finally exits only a few financial heartbeats will have passed.
So in sum, contra Faber money and credit cannot be held up inside speculative markets. It doesn't take long for it to be spent into the real economy.
For those who like to keep track of these things, the 'financial black hole' myth is related to the 'idle cash on the sidelines' myth, dealt with ably by John Hussman many years ago. In the 'sidelines' story, money sniffs its nose at the market and stays at the edge of the dance floor only to have a sudden change of heart, subsequently flooding the stock market. But as Hussman points out, when you put your cash on the sidelines to work in the stock market, it becomes someone else's cash on the sidelines. Both the black hole and sidelines stories are wrong because money doesn't disappear when it is spent. Rather, there is a seller who is left holding the stuff.