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Insight: Money markets

The famous British economist John Maynard Keynes once referred to financial markets as no more than a ''casino'', with the power to unleash serious economic damage.

Others are less unkind. They insist that markets can tell us valuable information about where an economy is heading, as they represent the combined wisdom of investors responsible for managing trillions of dollars.

And while this doesn't make them foolproof, financial markets have shown a reasonable ability to forecast the economy's future direction throughout history.

So what are the markets telling us about the future? That depends on who you ask.

The money markets, where people trade government bonds, are pointing to doom and gloom. As the graph shows, the yield, or return, on Aussie bonds has plunged to near-record lows. Normally, this is a big concern, because it reflects deeply held pessimism about the future.

Against this, however, Australian shares have staged a strong rally, rising 5 per cent in the past three months. This tells us that investors buying shares are increasingly optimistic about company profits and economic conditions.

So which one is it? Is the economy staging a sterling recovery, or on the edge of a precipice?

This may sound like sitting on the fence, but most experts argue the real answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, because markets' predictive powers have been badly distorted by the unprecedented actions of global central banks.