Flash back to March 6, 2009 and what does one find?
The S&P 500 was trading at 666.79, which would eventually become known as "the bottom," the intraday low for stocks after the great crash which began in earnest in October of 2008.
As late as September 19, 2008, the S&P had traded as well the mid 1200s, closing, on that date, at 1255.08. Nearing the end of October, the same index was in the 800s (October 27: 848.92), nearly a 33% haircut in just over a month.
Gains that had taken years to produce were dissipated in less than 30 trading sessions. That was only a sideshow. The slide that began in 2007, started from a high point of 1565.15 (the close on October 9, 2007) had taken a full year to gut the S&P, cutting the valuation nearly in half. The rest of the damage would be done in the fall and winter of 2008-09, for a total rout of 57.4%, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and foreign investors.
Most people aren't aware of the extraordinary measures taken by the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world to stop the plunge, but perhaps the most instructive - and eventually damaging - measure was taken by the FASB (Federal Accounting Standards Board) on April 2nd, 2009, to suspend rule 157, relieving financial institutions - primarily the too-big-to-fail banks - of the rigors of mark-to-market accounting. The banks would no longer have to value assets at any perceived market value, but at any value they deemed "reasonable" or otherwise flattering to their balance sheets.
At the time, the banks were saddled with billions of dollars worth of nearly-worthless mortgages, which they themselves had originated, or bought, in the bubbly real estate market of the early-to-mid 2000s. The entire bubble they created had burst, assets were impaired, homeowners were walking away from commitments they should never have made on houses they normally could never had qualified to buy.
Eventually, the Fed came in and rescued the banks further, buying up all the toxic paper in various rounds of QE, the last one ending in 2014. By then the markets had recovered, stocks had soared to new, unimaginable heights, and the global economy was pronounced "saved."
But, the FASB has never reinstated rule 157, meaning, in simple terms, that bank assets are still, to this day, based on fictional valuations.
To get an idea just how far down the rabbit hole price discovery has gone, just contemplate for a moment that Erin Andrews has been awarded a judgment of $55 million for being peeped upon in a hotel and having a video of her distributed online. Some models have posed au natural for significantly less.
Seriously, is anybody's body, or their pride, worth $55 million? The hotel she is suing isn't even worth anything close to that amount of money, so, in effect, this jury basically awarded the victim the entire assets of the hotel, and more.
Andrews will never see that money, however. Nobody has all of it. She will get some, her lawyers will get a third or more, of whatever she can recover, but, in essence, Erin Andrews is now a hotel owner.
Yes, she was wronged, but the point is that price discovery was done away with in 2009 with the suspension of rule 157, and nobody can place accurate valuations on anything.
Is gold worth $1200 an ounce, or $600, or $30,000. Is your car worth $35,000? Who knows? It's all relative now.
And relativity, in the sciences at least, is still theoretical.
So is existence. And we're back to where we began. Whoever can set the prices, dictates the terms. For now, the markets - as rigged and manipulated as they are - sets the prices. That's not going to last.
S&P 500: 2,001.76, +1.77 (0.09%)
Dow: 17,073.95, +67.18 (0.40%)
NASDAQ: 4,708.25, -8.77 (0.19%)
Crude Oil 37.87 +5.43% Gold 1,268.40 -0.18% EUR/USD 1.1014 -0.0018% 10-Yr Bond 1.9020 +1.01% Corn 359.50 +0.35% Copper 2.28 +0.24% Silver 15.67 -0.15% Natural Gas 1.69 +1.56% Russell 2000 1,094.15 +1.13% VIX 17.35 +2.91% BATS 1000 20,677.17 0.00% GBP/USD 1.4257 -0.04% USD/JPY 113.4160 +0.03%