A frothy market, a common Wall Street jargon, refers to a market condition where asset prices are notably detached from their true intrinsic value. Simply put, a frothy market is a market that is exhibiting unsustainable rapid price appreciation. If unresolved, it precedes a market bubble and a subsequent market bubble burst (market crash).
A frothy market refers to a market condition where the underlying assets exhibit unsustainable rapid price appreciation.
It occurs when market participants are overconfident in existing market conditions and bid up the underlying asset prices to a point where it is decoupled from its true intrinsic value.
Key signs of a frothy market include: (1) asset prices rising in a parabolic manner over a short time period on no basis and (2) asset prices rising regardless of perceived valuation.
The Popularization of the Term ‘Frothy Market’
The origin of the term “frothy market” is undetermined, but it was popularized by then-Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan in his description of the U.S. housing market in 2005. Since then, the term’s increasingly been used by market participants and the media.
In an April 2021 press conference, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell used the same term – stating that “we are seeing things in the capital markets that are a bit frothy.”
Understanding a Frothy Market
A frothy market typically occurs when market participants are overconfident in existing market conditions and, as a result, bid up the underlying asset prices to a point where it is decoupled from its true intrinsic value.
It is important to note that the true intrinsic value of assets is unobservable, so there is not a benchmark to compare against to determine the level of existing market froth.
Key signs of a frothy market include: (1) asset prices rising in a parabolic manner over a short time period, and (2) asset prices rising regardless of their perceived valuation.
Special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) started to become extremely popular in the markets in 2020 due to it being seen as an attractive go-public route for private companies versus an initial public offering (IPO).
A number of high-profile SPAC deals, such as the Virgin Galactic and DraftKings deals, attract significant investor interest, causing market participants to significantly bid up the prices of SPACs.
The following shows the SPAC Index, which is a benchmark for the performance of a broad universe of SPACs, from July 30, 2020, to June 15, 2021.
The SPAC universe had shown some signs of frothiness – rising nearly 90% from October 30 to February 21 (a four-month period). Subsequently, SPACs faced a sharp correction, falling nearly 25% over the next couple of months.
Frothy Market as a Precursor to a Market Bubble
Continued market frothiness, if unresolved, is a common precursor to a market bubble. A market bubble, in the context of a frothy market, can be characterized as a market that is continually exhibiting unsustainable rapid price appreciation.
In the transition from a frothy market to a market bubble, investor confidence is at an exorbitantly high level, and asset prices are being bid up to relatively high record levels.
Two notable examples of a market bubble were the 2000 dot-com bubble and the 2008 U.S. housing bubble.
Frothy Market in the News
On February 10, 2021, an article was published on CNBC outlining that the stock market was inching towards a frothy environment. In the article, CNBC’s Jim Cramer cited the following signs of a frothy market: (1) people are getting too greedy (i.e., investor overconfidence) and (2) stocks going through enormous rallies that are disconnected from the underlying fundamentals.
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