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This Motley Fool series examines things that just aren't right in the world of finance and investing. Here's what's got us riled today. If something's bugging you, too -- and we suspect it is -- go ahead and unload in the comments section below.
Today's subject: Bubble junkies. These financial addicts are hooked on overinflated, unsustainable economies -- and they run a huge risk of ruining investing for the rest of us.
Why you should be indignant: Asset bubbles of epic proportions triggered the economic crisis that still plagues us. Federal Reserve monetary policies helped create that frothy situation, and current policies may not do anything to fix it.
Many Wall Street observers are all abuzz about a junk-stock rally. Stocks like AIG (NYSE: AIG ) -- 80% owned by the government -- and bankrupt companies like Lehman Brothers and "old GM" have enjoyed some crazy runs. But investors shouldn't emulate that mind-set. They should fear it.
A Forbes article (wonderfully titled "Amnesia") recently pointed out that there's also a rally in junk bonds. The Fed's gushing wellsprings of copious cheap money have left some investors desperate to put their money somewhere, anywhere. Look no further than Blockbuster's (NYSE: BBI ) recent successful sale of its bonds, even though the movie rental chain faces serious operational problems that reach far beyond its competition with the likes of Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) .
An even more astonishing Wall Street Journal article yesterday discussed unemployed executives who have continued living their old, affluent lifestyles on their severance packages. Some have even turned down job offers, disdaining their reduced salaries, and confident that a better gig will still come their way. Never mind that getting a job offer in this economy is probably something to be happy about, and that market realities make lower pay for these laid-off workers almost inevitable.
Each of us is free to make our own choices, including refusing job offers that might not make us happy. However, it's frightening to think that in both their investments and their lifestyles, some folks don't realize the severity of the economic hole we're in, and aren't willing to adjust their expectations to match our uncomfortable new reality.
What now: We shouldn't want to party like it's 1999, and we shouldn't clamor for a return to the delusional expectations that exemplified the bubble era. Alas, I'm afraid too many of us are. Satirical website The Onion might have said it best in July 2008: "Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In."
Investors need to stop chasing junk, and try to find businesses built to last. They're hardly in short supply on Wall Street; sound, scrupulous Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) is just one of the many sturdy companies that fits the bill. Being a bubble junkie now only postpones and prolongs our economic pain. A nation full of such addicts to artificial affluence will ultimately get what it deserves -- and it won't be pretty.