Sorry, Central Banks: Risk and Volatility Cannot be Extinguished
Central bank market intervention doesn’t extinguish risk–it simply transfers it to the system itself.
The unspoken claim of central bank policy is that risk can be extinguished by intervention/manipulation: once the Fed has your back, i.e. is supporting the market, risk disappears, and the easy profits flow to those who buy the dips with supreme confidence in the Fed’s ability to magically turn risk-assets into risk-free assets.
Unfortunately for the credulous investors who believe this, risk cannot be extinguished, it can only be transferred to others or to the system itself.
This confidence in central banks raises a pernicious systemic risk: assuming the “100-year flood” can’t happen every 6 years or so. I have from time to time highly recommended The Misbehavior of Markets. The author, fractal pioneer Benoit Mandelbrot, explains in simple mathematical ways how Modern Portfolio Theory, i.e. the management of risk, is based on a faulty conception of risk and statistical chance.
In a nutshell: while modern portfolio management is statistically based (all those “standard deviations” you always see referenced in quantitative analyses), the markets behave fractally. Fractals are known as the geometry of chaos, for they describe how seemingly stable systems can quickly, and unpredictably, degrade into chaos.
But as Mandelbrot explains, “100-year floods” actually occur with startling regularity in all markets. Put another way: you cannot disappear all risk with fancy statistical models and credit default swaps, etc., that offload the risk onto others, i.e. counterparties.
In other words, all you’re really doing is masking the risk–you’re not eliminating it. And in hiding the real risk, you are lulling the market participants into a pernicious choice architecture in which their willingness to take riskier and riskier actions is rewarded and encouraged, while caution is punished.
This is the Paradox of Risk: by masking risk behind assurances that the Fed has your back, the Federal Reserve is encouraging unwary investors to increase their exposure to risk without even being aware of the dangers.