All That Glitters / Ten Little Bubbles

The plot, as they say, thickens. We all know how it began: in panic. A financial system meltdown led to a worldwide economic crisis.

The second phase, as is proper in any self-respecting story, brought a surprise: The financial markets recovered far faster than anybody had expected, and buds of economic growth started showing through the snow. At the end of Act II, everybody choruses that this really had been the worst economic crisis in decades but, they trill in unison, the worst is behind us. Curtain.

But now it's time for Act III and economists and businessmen are in a quandary. Never before have divisions run so deep between the optimistic camp and the pessimistic one.

Half the investment community firmly believes another great crash is ahead, and the other half sees nothing but opportunity. Talk with economists and half will show you graphs arguing recovery, while the other half will show a table of the diseases still gripping the economies of the world. Instant depression will ensue.

Israel weathered the global storm practically unscathed. Yet now, of all times, with the markets back to near-record heights, suddenly giants are brought low: Africa Israel, Zim Integrated Shipping Services, who knows who might be next.

Psychology may be at play. What happened to the economy is like a man having a heart attack. He's rushed to hospital, terrified relatives a-keening, only to be released a day or two later looking fine. But he has to change his lifestyle and cope with new anxiety, namely that he'll have another one.

Where does the next economic heart attack lurk? Between booms and busts, bubbles become dangerous points of vulnerability. Here is a list of ten bubbles to watch out for in the New Year.

But the sharp increase in the number of companies resorting to debt arrangements, because they can't pay their bondholders, proves that it isn't business as usual. The confidence that investors are evincing, that the companies will repay them, seems a little out of touch.

In the short term, the government could surprise and fight the shekel, not only by buying foreign currency but also by other means, such as taxing deals that appear to be speculative. If there is another market crisis this year, the dollar will go up again. Long term, the shekel will settle into a higher range that takes into account exports hit by low demand.

The result is that Chinese stocks are soaring, but a lot of people think it's an easy-money bubble.

Companies don't know what to do with their cash other than park it in the stock market. Property prices have also been soaring. Exactly two years ago in this space, we wrote the Chinese stock market was in a bubble, and we were right. The stock market then plunged by more than 70%. Now share prices in Shanghai again appear high.

The story with oil is not much different. There are major players pushing the price up, which essentially involves betting on the pace of the global economic recovery.

Alternatively, you could take an unsecured loan from the company and simply not repay it. But times are changing. Maybe you won't go to jail, but after TheMarker's recent expose, this particular trick will be much harder to pull off.