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Topic Videos

Economics of Speculative Bubbles

AS, A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 3 Mar 2023

In this revision video we look at the economics of speculative bubbles in financial markets.

Economics of Speculative Bubbles

A bubble exists when the market price of something is driven well above what it should be, usually due to the herd behaviour of consumers / investors especially in financial markets.

Good examples to quote in exams of speculative bubbles




•DOT COM BOOM FROM 1997-2000



Five stages of a speculative bubble

  1. Displacement stage – excitement grows about a new product / emerging technology
  2. Prices boom as demand surges + limited (inelastic) supply causing market prices to spike higher
  3. Euphoria as more investors look to take advantage (Robert Shiller calls this “irrational exuberance”)
  4. Profit taking stage – some investors sell as they realise prices are out of line with fundamentals
  5. Panic – the herd mentality switches to desperate selling and prices fall fast inflicting big losses

Herd behaviour in financial markets

  • Herd behaviour is a phenomenon in which individuals act collectively as part of a group, often making decisions as a group that they would not make as an individual.
  • Social pressure to conform - individuals want to be accepted – and this means behaving in the same way as others, even if that behaviour goes against your natural instincts.
  • Individuals find it hard to believe that a large group could be wrong and follow the group’s behaviour in the mistaken belief that the group knows something an individual doesn’t.
  • This is described as the bandwagon effect or group think

The hot hand fallacy and over-confidence

  • This is a behavioural bias where someone believes that they are less at risk of a negative event happening to them compared to the rest of the population.
  • Traders in financial markets who have made big profits might then under-estimate the probability / risk of a downturn in share prices.
  • The hot hand fallacy in short means "whatever is currently happening will continue to happen forever.”
  • Traders in financial markets become over-confident, have mistaken valuations and believe them too strongly. Investors credit their own talents and abilities for past successes.

Prospect theory and speculative bubbles

  • A theory of human behaviour under uncertainty
  • As a market goes up, people become less risk averse and become more willing to gamble
  • This accelerates the rate of increase of asset prices
  • Investors also suffer from loss aversion
  • When asset prices start falling, many are initially reluctant to sell because that might crystalize a loss
  • They hold on their investments for too long – before panic selling sets in and prices fall rapidly

What are the main causes of speculative bubbles in financial markets?

Speculative bubbles in financial markets occur when the prices of assets become detached from their fundamental values due to excessive investor optimism and buying activity. This can happen due to a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Herding behavior: When investors follow the crowd and invest in assets simply because others are doing so, without considering their fundamental values.
  2. Easy credit: When interest rates are low and credit is easily available, investors may take on more debt to invest in assets, driving up prices.
  3. Overconfidence: When investors become overconfident in their ability to predict future prices and ignore the risks associated with their investments.
  4. Speculative mania: When investors become caught up in the excitement of a particular asset, such as a new technology or a trendy investment, and invest in it without regard for its actual value.
  5. Market manipulation: When traders or institutions use illegal tactics such as insider trading or price manipulation to artificially inflate prices.

Some examples of speculative bubbles in financial markets include:

  1. Dot-com bubble (1995-2001): A period of excessive speculation in internet-related stocks that led to a sharp increase in stock prices followed by a collapse in 2000-2001.
  2. Housing bubble (2002-2007): A period of rapid expansion in the U.S. housing market, driven by easy credit and speculation, which eventually led to the 2008 global financial crisis.
  3. Tulip mania (1637): An early example of a speculative bubble, where the prices of tulip bulbs in the Netherlands soared to absurd levels before collapsing and causing significant economic damage.
  4. Bitcoin bubble (2017): A period of rapid growth in the value of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, driven by speculation and hype, which eventually led to a steep price correction in early 2018.

It's important to note that while speculative bubbles can generate significant returns in the short term, they often lead to significant losses in the long run. Therefore, it's crucial for investors to carefully consider the fundamentals of an asset before investing and to avoid getting caught up in market hype and speculation.

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