B
usiness cycles are common phenomena in the countries’ economy, implying a puzzling pattern that behavioural economists try to study and forecast.

What is known as a business cycle consists on a fluctuating deviation of the actual output from its own trend (Fig. 1), which matches its emotional translation alongside the market emotions cycle (Fig. 2). For instance, this observed pattern can be clearly seen in share prices of financial markets, following a similar behaviour like that showed in Fig. 1—around bubbles.

FIG. 1

A Business Cycle

esfig1

The x-axis refers to time and the y-axis the output.

FIG. 4

Market Emotions Cycle

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Incidentally, bubbles blow up when individuals feel thrilled and euphoric for an investment opportunity—which is consistent with Minsky’s expansion and euphoria phases after the displacement phase in which takes place this new-profitable investment opportunity. Bubble bursts are likely to find their rationale under Minsky’s revulsion phase caused by an unjustified high price of over-trading, corresponding with emotions such anxiety, fear and panic, which gradually spills over its effects into the real side of the economy—the recession and further slump phases, respectively—led by a set of emotions such as despondency, depression and hope. Within this context, the periods of highest financial risk and most profitable investment opportunities precisely occur in the peak of the bubble—the euphoria and boom—and the through of the recession—the late depression and slump—phases, respectively.

Albeit there does not exist a one-to-one linkage between share markets’ activity and the real side of the economy, it is expected that the share market may spill its effects over the real side of the economy when it bursts, which does not happen automatically, though. In light of this relationship, there is a linkage between share markets’ activity and consumer confidence, as individuals do take a share market index as a leading indicator in terms of economic health of a country’s economy, which leads them to think that if the share market is rising then the economy is going to do well and thereby they increase their personal consumption pattern—which entails a biased decision because of the representativeness heuristic psychological driver that controls the individuals’ decision-making process. Incidentally, the empirics in this issue yields consistent findings as regards to this linkage—the Granger’s causality tests support a pivotal relationship between consumer confidence indexes and changes in share market prices.

Although the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EMH) tries to address this markets puzzle by assuming a perfect rationality of individuals as well as a market efficiency, which means that public, available information reflects exactly the prices in those markets, the aforesaid, analysed patterns of the business cycles point to imperfections of financial markets to be associated with human errors in reasoning and processing information, which leads individuals to ignore the real, high-valued shares and alternatively buy the fast-growing, real-unvalued shares at an unjustified, expensive price. A good explanation for the fact that individuals over-trade in equity markets is explained under cognitive biases of overconfidence—because of optimistic emotions. For instance, this phenomenon is characteristic in the institutional herding, which occurs when an irrational, emotionally-driven behaviour in bubbles and crashes—euphoria and panic, respectively—leads individuals to follow the same aggregate decision regardless their own signals, as this decision is not based on their own judgement but rather in the observations of others. As expected, the institutional herding impacts more significantly upon prices than that effect of the individual herding, which has been identified as one of the main factors of the last financial bubble, leading to a biased mass behaviour. Furthermore, in relation to individuals’ behaviour in financial markets, it has been reported how individuals overreact to unexpected, dramatic news and hence underweight prior data—which is also associated with the representativeness heuristic psychological driver and the mass herding—connoting a violation of the Bayes’ rule describing the correct reaction to new information.

After considering the aforesaid stance, it can be seen how individuals make decisions involving all micro- and macro-economic relationships in the economy, in which the microeconomic behaviour is the operating mechanism of the macroeconomic events. Indeed, only a couple of days ago was published the most recent study on this issue, yielding a set of new insights on this macro-level impact. Actually, in light of an increased international correlation, higher than 0.82, on average, of the business cycles among countries, this phenomenon has been investigated under the behavioural lens. The study, ‘Animal Spirits and the International Transmission of Business Cycles’ by DeGrauwe & Ji, develops a behavioural macroeconomic model in which the main, endogenous channel of business-cycles correlation across countries is produced through a propagation of ‘animal spirits’. The findings pinpoint the fact that this propagation across countries depends on ‘animal spirits’—for instance waves of pessimism and optimism that become internationally synchronised—and its magnitude on the timing of the shock, which confirms and supports the aforesaid one-to-one linkage between the emotional and the business cycles and clarifies the psychological drivers that move the mechanics of this macro-level phenomenon.

Enrique Muñoz-Salido

Enrique is an MSc Candidate in Social Anthropology at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford. His research interests lie at the intersection of human behaviour and social interactions and his top analytical skills comprise macro and micro data analysis and statistical methods. Prior to joining Oxford, Enrique completed his MSc in Economics (distinction) at the University of Brighton, UK, where he was a Santander Scholar, and his undergraduate degree at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain.

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