Smart Roger Lowenstein take on liquidity’s submerged risks:
Time and again, otherwise canny investors fall for the salve that in a liquid market, they can always get out, therefore what’s the problem? At Lehman, in the mid 2000s, executives took comfort in the notion that that the bank was in the “moving business” not the “storage business.” Then, the mortgage market froze, and everyone was in the storage business.
Liquidity is a backward-looking yardstick. If anything, it’s an indicator of potential risk, because in “liquid” markets traders forego trying to determine an asset’s underlying worth – – they trust, instead, on their supposed ability to exit. Investors now in low-yielding U.S. Treasury bonds may, one day, discover this lesson for themselves.
It’s hard to overestimate the extent to which the siren of liquidity has seduced even ordinary Americans. During the housing bubble, anyone who took out a mortgage they couldn’t afford, upon advice they could always refinance, was tacitly assuming they could trade their old loan for a new one. They were counting on continued liquidity in the mortgage market–and so were the banks that lent them the money.