The Stock Market Is Not the Economy

U.S. economic growth in the 1st quarter came in at 2.3%, right in line with the average level of the expansion that began in June 2009. As you can see in the chart below, this has been the slowest growth expansion in history.

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Data Sources for all charts/tables herein: NBER, FRED, Bloomberg, NYU.EDU

Has that impeded stock market performance? Not at all. At 15.2% annualized since June 2009, stocks have fared quite well. Which begs the question, what exactly is the historical relationship between the stock market and the economy? Let’s take a look.

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On a calendar-year basis since 1930, there’s a 0.26 correlation between the S&P 500’s total return and the change in real GDP.

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On a year-over-year basis since 1948, the correlation moves up to 0.31.

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So there’s a positive relationship between the stocks and the economy, but it’s not nearly as high as you might think. That leads to some counter-intuitive results at times.

For instance, a contraction in the economy during a given year does not necessarily mean a falling stock market. We saw that most recently in 2009 when real GDP declined 0.2% while stocks advanced 26.5%.

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5 out of the last 10 U.S. recessions actually had positive stock returns during the full period of contraction.

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While less common, the same is true in the opposite direction. Some of the best years for the economy have featured negative stock performance.

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What gives? Why are stocks not moving precisely in tandem with the economy?

For one thing, stocks tend to be a leading indicator of the economy. That means in years like 2009 when growth was negative, stocks were looking ahead to better growth to come. It also means that in years like 2000, when growth was positive, stocks were looking ahead to weaker growth (recession began in March 2001).

Where this gets complicated is that stock returns are frequently not telling you anything important about the economy, but instead simply reflecting changing investor sentiment. At times investors will pay more for a given level of earnings and at other times they will pay less. What’s going on in the economy is just one factor in that determination.

Stocks are ultimately a reflection of what investors are willing to pay today for a stream of long-term corporate earnings, which is not nearly the same thing as changes in short-term economic growth. Hence, the stock market is not the economy. Understanding that as an investor is critical.


Related Posts:

The Yield Curve and the Stock Market

Inverted Yield Curves and Recessions



Charlie Bilello is the Director of Research at Pension Partners, LLC. He is an investment advisor that manages mutual funds and separate accounts. He is the co-author of four award-winning research papers on market anomalies and investing. Charlie is responsible for strategy development, investment research and communicating the firm’s investment themes and portfolio positioning to clients. Prior to joining Pension Partners, he was the Managing Member of Momentum Global Advisors. He previously held positions as a Credit, Equity and Hedge Fund Analyst at billion dollar alternative investment firms.

Charlie holds a J.D. and M.B.A. in Finance and Accounting from Fordham University and a B.A. in Economics from Binghamton University. He is a Chartered Market Technician (CMT) and also holds the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate.

In 2017, Charlie was named the StockTwits Person of the Year. He has been named by Business Insider and MarketWatch as one of the top people to follow on Twitter. His work has also been featured in Barron’s, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal.

You can follow Charlie on twitter here.


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The information herein was obtained from various sources. Pension Partners does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information provided by third parties. The information given is as of the date indicated and believed to be reliable. Pension Partners assumes no obligation to update this information or to advise on further developments relating to it.

Past performance is not indicative nor a guarantee of future results.

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