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Fiddling at the Fire

PARIS – Financial markets have rallied since July on the hope that the global economic and geopolitical outlook will not worsen, or, if it does, that central banks stand ready to backstop economies and markets with additional rounds of liquidity provision and quantitative easing. So, not only has good – or better-than-expected – economic news boosted the markets, but even bad news has been good news, because it increases the probability that central-banking firefighters like US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will douse the markets with buckets of cash.

But markets that rise on both good and bad news are not stable markets. “Risk-off” episodes, in which investor sentiment sours, are likely to return if economic news worsens and confidence in policymakers’ effectiveness drops.