LIMITED TIME OFFER: Get a $500 cash bonus with a personal loan.
Offer ends 9/30/21. Not available to OH residents. Bonus deposited into SoFi Money. See terms

How a Minsky Moment Happens, and How to Spot One

By Colin Dodds · June 04, 2021 · 4 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

How a Minsky Moment Happens, and How to Spot One

A Minsky moment is an economic term describing a period of optimism that ends with a market crash. It describes the point at which a market boom marked by speculative trading and increasing debt suddenly gives way to a freefall marked by plunging market sentiment, asset values, and economic activity.

It is named for American economist Hyman Minsky, who studied the characteristics of financial crises, and whose “financial instability hypothesis” offered reasons why financial markets were and would be inherently unstable. Minsky died in 1996, and the phrase “Minsky moment” was coined in 1998, when a portfolio manager used it in reference to the 1997 Asian debt crisis, which was widely blamed on currency speculators.

How Does a Minsky Moment Happen?

A Minsky Moment refers to something sudden, though the economist maintained that it doesn’t arise all at once. He identified three stages by which a market builds up to the convoluted speculation and complete instability that finally undoes even the longest bull markets.

1.   The Hedge Phase: This often comes in the wake of a market collapse. In this phase, both banks and borrowers are cautious. Banks only lend to borrowers with income to cover the principal of the loan and interest payments; and borrowers are wary of taking on more debt than they’re highly confident they can repay entirely.

2.   Speculative Borrowing Phase: As economic conditions improve, debts are repaid and confidence rises. Banks become willing to make loans to borrowers who can afford to pay the interest but not the principal, but the bank and the borrower don’t worry because most of these loans are for assets—stocks, real estate and so on—that are appreciating in value. The banks are also betting that interest rates won’t go up.

3.   The Ponzi Phase: The third and final phase leading up to the Minsky Moment is named for the iconic fraudster Charles Ponzi. Ponzi invented a scheme that offers fake investments, and gathers new investors based on the returns earned by the original investors. It pays the first investors from new investments, and so on, until it collapses.

In Minsky’s theory, the Ponzi phase arrives when confident borrowers and lenders graduate to a new level of risk-taking and speculation: when lenders lend to borrowers without enough cash flow to cover the principal payments or the interest payments. They do so in the expectation that the underlying assets will continue rising, allowing the borrower to sell those assets at prices high enough for them to cover their debt.

The longer the growth swing in the market, the more debt investors take on. While those investments are still rising and generating returns, the borrowers can use that money to pay off the debt and the interest payments. But assets eventually go down in value, in any market, even just for a while.

At this point, the investors are relying on the growth of those assets to repay the loans they’ve taken out to buy them. Any interruption of that growth means they can’t repay the debt they’ve taken on. That’s when the lenders call in the loans. And the borrowers have to sell their assets—at any price—to repay the lenders. When there are thousands of investors doing this at the same time, the values of the underlying assets plummet. This is the Minsky moment.

In addition to plunging prices, a Minsky moment is usually accompanied by a steep drop in market-wide liquidity. That lack of liquidity can stop the daily functioning of the economy, and it’s the part of these crises that causes central banks to intervene as a lender of last resort.

The Minsky Moment and the 2008 Subprime Mortgage Crisis

The 2008 subprime mortgage crisis offered a very clear and relatable example of this kind of escalation, as many people borrowed money to buy homes they couldn’t afford. They did so believing that the property value would go up fast enough that they could flip the house to cover their borrowing costs, while earning a tidy profit.

Minsky theorized that a lengthy economic growth cycle tends to generate an outsized increase in market speculation. But that accelerating speculation is often funded by large amounts of debt on the part of both large and small investors. And that tends to increase market instability and the likelihood of sudden, catastrophic collapse.

Accordingly, the 2008 financial crisis was marked by a sudden drop and downward momentum fueled investors selling assets to cover short-term debts. Some of those included margin calls, which are when an investor is forced to sell securities to cover the collateral needed to borrow money from a brokerage.

How to Predict the Next Minsky Moment

While Hyman Minsky provided a framework of the three escalating phases that lead up to a market collapse, there’s no way to tell how long each phase will last. Using its framework can help investors understand where they are in a broader economic cycle, but people will disagree on how much debt is too much, or the point at which speculation threatens the stability of the markets.

Most recently, market-watchers keep an eye on the high rates of corporate debt in trying to detect a coming Minsky moment. And even the International Monetary Fund has sounded warning bells over high debt levels, alongside slowing growth around the planet.

But other authorities have warned of other Minsky moments over the years that haven’t necessarily happened. It calls to mind the old joke: “The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions.”

The Takeaway

A Minsky moment is named after an economist who described the way that markets overheat and collapse. And the concept can help investors understand where they are in a market cycle.

No matter what the market is doing, there is likely an investing strategy that will speak to an investor. One way to get started investing today is by opening an online brokerage account with SoFi Invest®. SoFi Invest offers an active investing solution that allows you to choose your investments, as well as an automated investing solution that invests your money for you based on your goals and risk.

Find out how to get started with SoFi Invest.

Photo credit: iStock/Rawpixel


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SOIN0421142

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender