The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. With nearly 300 released each year, working papers cover a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.
In distilling a vast literature spanning the rational- irrational divide, this paper offers reflections on why asset bubbles continue to threaten economic stability despite financial markets becoming more informationally-efficient, more complete, and more heavily influenced by sophisticated (i.e. presumably rational) institutional investors. Candidate explanations for bubble persistence-such as limits to learning, frictional limits to arbitrage, and behavioral errors-seem unsatisfactory as they are inconsistent with the aforementioned trends impacting global capital markets. In lieu of the short-term nature of the asset owner-manager relationship, and the momentum bias inherent in financial benchmarks, I argue that the business risk of asset managers acts as strong motivation for institutional herding and ‘rational bubble-riding.' Two key policy implications follow. First, procyclicality could intensify as institutional assets under management continue to grow. Second, remedial policies should extend beyond the standard suite of macroprudential and monetary measures to include time-invariant policies targeted at the cause (not just symptom) of the problem. Prominent among these should be reforms addressing principal-agent contract design and the implementation of financial benchmarks.