There are still bubbles to burst before the bear market is done

Bear markets don't end until all their surrounding bubbles have popped, says Merryn Somerset Webb. Oil, property and stocks have all burst. But there are still a few to go.

They say a real bear market isn't over until all the bubbles surrounding it are well and truly burst. On that measure, you might think we are nearly there.

The oil bubble has popped the price has now fallen below $83. So much for the $200 a barrel the world's analysts were waiting for earlier this year. So has the property bubble in most countries. Here, prices have now fallen faster than ever before. On Halifax numbers they are off 13.4% in the last year. That's the fastest rate of decline ever. The story is the same across much of Europe and, of course, in the US.

At the same time, you could hardly claim that any developed stock markets had a hint of bubble left in them. Japan has now fallen so far as to be, as Jonathan Allum of KBC puts it, "offensively" cheap. And Western markets have collapsed. The FTSE is down 43% from its high last year and most European markets would give you back little more than £600 out of any £1,000 you might have invested at the start of the year.

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Then there are the Brics. In spite of endless muttering about decoupling (the idea that fast-growing Asian economies were immune from Western fallout), most market participants must have known that Chinese stock markets at least were experiencing a typical bubble.

It's the same story with Russia. The exchange appears to be closed more than it is open and I'm very glad none of my pension is in the Moscow market.

Emerging market currencies have been burnt too. At the beginning of 2008, we were all being told we should pile into Asian currencies, based as they were on strong economies with whopping great trade surpluses. Whoops. The best performing currency this year? It's the dollar.

Next up, the renewable energy bubble. This time last year you couldn't go wrong with Europe's largest wind turbine manufacturer Vestas. Now its shares are down 50%.

But in spite of all this bubble bursting, the bear market isn't over yet. It is entirely possible for markets to get much cheaper.

More importantly perhaps, there are still bubbles out there. There is, for example, the art bubble. Damien Hirst managed to get £111m of his mainly undisplayable work away at Sotheby's last month and only a few weeks ago auctioneers at Bonhams had their most successful South African auction ever.

Still, there are a few early signs that the art market's so-called immunity to global financial and economic implosion is wobbling. Sotheby's just held an auction in Hong Kong that was expected to fetch $280m. It took $140m.

Then there is the wine bubble the Liv-Ex fine wine index rose 9% in the first half of this year. How long can that last given the 100,000 redundancies in London alone and a 60% (at least) fall in bonuses this year?

Finally, there is the super-rich bubble. The super rich aren't immune to market meltdown and nor therefore are the markets they spend in. Look at the rich lists and you'll see that a good 30% of those on it make their money out of property. And those that don't are exposed to the other busts mentioned above. Who'd be a Russian oligarch with big oil holdings and a leveraged exposure to the Russian stock market? Quite.

There are advance signs the party is over for the one-time super-rich. Last September, Aston Martin sold 150 cars in the UK. This September, it sold three.

When the developers of over-designed homes for the super-rich, the Candy brothers, go bust, buy. The last bubble will have burst.

This article was first published in the Financial Times

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.