Cripes, the 10th anniversary of the global financial crisis has crept up on me.

Perhaps that's because it is actually only nine years since the crash that most people remember.

Articles commemorating the anniversary of the global market meltdown are getting a little ahead of themselves.

August 2007 was all about the credit crunch which, unfortunately, never made it out of the business pages that year.


Which is not to say it isn't worth remembering. In fact it may offer more important lessons than the crash itself.

Looking back through the news stories of the time is a good reminder of just how unclear things can be in the early stages of a financial crisis.

"The tide of easy money and cheap credit that has run for most of the current decade is turning, with a vengeance," wrote Brian Fallow, the Herald's economics editor at the time.

Interbank lending rates spiked suddenly and dramatically in August on fears that the US housing market - up to its neck in sub-prime mortgage lending - was in bad shape.

The jitters about sub-prime lending had been building since April. But between August 9 and 20 shares took a hit.

Then as the US Fed moved to cut rates, markets bounced back sharply on (what turned out to be) false optimism that the issue had been contained.

The NZX-50 fell 5.2 per cent in those days a decade ago but, along with US markets, regained it all to hit new record highs by September.

From there they slid far more gradually, eventually going into bear territory (20 per cent off peak) in March 2008 as the US Federal Reserve was forced to bail out investment bank Bear Stearns.

To put it in perspective the, NZX-50 rose 157 per cent between January 2001 and October 2007. While it shed 20 per cent in the next five months, the market dropped that much in one day back in 1987.

In 2007 we were still very much in boiled frog territory - debating the seriousness of the issue.

New Zealand's official cash rate was still at 8.25 per cent. The Reserve Bank had hiked four times in a row through to July 2007, to try to cool the housing boom. Retail mortgage rates were about 10 per cent.

The Reserve Bank saw no crisis worthy of a rate cut until July 2008.

From a broader economic perspective, the US probably went into recession in December 2007.

New Zealand also went into official recession in the second quarter of 2008. But it wasn't driven by the financial crisis at that point. It was good old fashioned drought.

History is always out of focus when we are living through it.

This economic cycle might already be past a point that future generations will commemorate as the starting point for a historic crash.

There are already plenty of analysts and economists talking about risks of a bubble in equity markets.

Nobody, not the gloomiest economist or most optimistic fund manager, can see in advance exactly when the possibility of a crash outweighs the opportunity cost of pulling out of a bull run too early.


Markets in the US, New Zealand and around the world continue to break new records every week.

The market is still being propped up by central bank policies - the US Fed in particular - holding rates low, despite seemingly endless promises to hike them.

The cycle has long since become self-fulfilling. Money is looking for a home in equity markets because bank deposits are low. It has flowed into stocks, pushing them to record highs.

The series of regular record highs creates a perception that the only way is up. More money flows in to equities to reap the rewards and that money pushes prices higher.

Eventually valuations become divorced from the real world performance of companies - their actual profits and growth forecasts. That's bubble territory.

Are we there yet? Maybe.

Should we be putting our savings under the mattress? No, but we are into territory where savers - particular savers - should be thinking about their risk profile.

I mentioned the NZX rising 157 per cent in the bull run before the GFC hit ... it is up more than 220 per cent in this current run.

What could pop the bubble?

Publications like the The Financial Times are extremely hot on the risk caused by Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) right now.

Investors are piling into these passive investment products that track stock indexes because they have low fees and are delivering returns just as good as more active funds managers.

The FT reports that US investors poured US$391 billion into ETFs in the first seven months this year, surpassing last year's record annual inflow.

They are booming in New Zealand now too.

ETFs are fantastic in a bull market. And if you are in the market for the long haul then they also make a lot of sense.

But the sheer volume of cash is causing concern about the kind of exuberant herd behaviour that often sinks markets. It brings back memories of 2007 for many market players.

Nobody, not the gloomiest economist or most optimistic fund manager, can see in advance exactly when the possibility of a crash outweighs the opportunity cost of pulling out of a bull run too early.

I certainly can't. But I can tell you that it is something the smartest brains in New Zealand's financial markets are thinking a lot about these days.