The Dumb Money


One argument I hear a lot is that foreign demand for local real estate has grown substantially in recent years, and that such foreign demand will be supportive of prices in the future.

Unfortunately, this argument puts the cart squarely in front of the horse. Investors from other countries are well known to be the very last participants to arrive at the scene of a financial bubble. They are the last to hear about all the riches to be made, the last to buy in, and the last to realize that the party is over.

The chart to the right provides an example from the history of bubbles past. The blue line represents the price of the Nasdaq Composite Index during its late-1990s flight to the heavens, along with the very beginning of its eventual journey back to earth. The red line denotes the dollar amount of U.S. stock purchases made by foreign investors.

It can easily be seen that foreign buyers chased the U.S. tech stock bubble all the way to the tippy top, and that they lagged prices the entire way. The final onslaught of foreign cash did not even hit our shores until after the Nasdaq had begun to decline from its final peak.

Far from being a positive fundamental, a sudden excess of foreign participation in an asset market is indicative of ill-informed speculative money at work. When the foreigners really start piling on, it’s always a good sign that the end of the bubble is nigh.

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