Do you find it puzzling when a bleak economic report emerges from the press, only to be accompanied by a positive surge in the stock market? You’re not alone.
The last few weeks have produced many examples of a stark contrast between stock market performance and economic indicators. So why the apparent disconnect?
Markets are forward-looking, meaning current asset prices reflect market participants’ aggregate expectations. Those expectations include whatever future economic developments are anticipated and their potential impact on cash flows, which are key to a stock’s value. For example, if the market expects the economic environment to weaken company cash flows, stock markets may react well in advance of when we observe the impact on cash flows, as expectations are embedded in prices. And the eventual direction of the stock market will depend on how the economic outcome compares to expectations. If things aren’t as bad as expected, poor economic news can be greeted with a positive stock reaction.
We can see this anticipatory nature of markets in action by looking at the relation between US gross domestic product (GDP) growth and equity premiums, or stock market returns in excess of one-month US Treasury bills. When annual US equity premiums are plotted against GDP growth for the same year (top panel of Exhibit 1), there is no discernable relation between the two. Changes in GDP have not been strongly related to simultaneous stock market returns.
It’s important to note that this result does not imply financial markets ignore macroeconomic data. After all, GDP encompasses several measures of the economy, not just corporate profits. However, while GDP may be an imprecise representation of the activities that ultimately drive stock prices, further analysis shows that is not the sole cause for the lack of relation between GDP growth and simultaneous equity premiums.
Plotting GDP growth against the previous year’s equity premium (bottom panel of Exhibit 1) reveals a noticeable relation. The positive trend in the data suggests market prices have in fact reacted to changes in GDP but have done so in advance of these economic developments coming to fruition. This result is consistent with markets pricing in their expectation of economic growth.
Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Annual GDP growth rates obtained from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. GDP growth numbers are adjusted to 2012 USD terms to remove the effects of inflation. Annual US equity premium is return difference between the Fama/French Total US Market Research Index and One-Month US Treasury Bill. Equity premium data provided by Ken French, available at mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/pages/faculty/ken.french/data_library.html. Eugene Fama and Ken French are members of the Board of Directors of the general partner of, and provide consulting services to, Dimensional Fund Advisors LP. “One-Month Treasury Bills” is the IA SBBI US 30 Day TBill TR USD, provided by Ibbotson Associates via Morningstar Direct.
That brings us to the latest news headline worrying some investors: the eventual fallout from increasingly large US government expenditures designed to ease the economic burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Will these efforts ultimately create a financial burden for the US government that affects future stock returns?
The results in Exhibit 2 should help allay concerns over the debt level impacting equity market performance. When we sort countries each year on their debt-to-GDP for the prior year (top panel), average annual equity premiums have been slightly higher for high-debt countries than low-debt countries in both developed and emerging markets. However, the return differences’ small t-statistics—a measure of the precision of a value’s estimate – suggest these averages are not reliably different from one another.1
The top panel uses prior year debt-to-GDP data to sort countries into the high/low groups. But investors may be more focused on where they expect the debt to end up, rather than on where it’s been. In the bottom panel of Exhibit 2, we rank countries on debt-to-GDP at the end of the current year, assuming perfect foresight of end-of-year debt levels. Again, average equity premiums have been similar for high- and low-debt countries. Like the results for GDP growth, these results imply that markets have generally priced in expectations for future government debt.
Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
All returns in USD. Countries are sorted at the beginning of each year. High-Debt and Low-Debt refer to countries above and below the median debt, respectively. Debt is general government debt and central government debt. Source: The International Monetary Fund. Equity market returns represented by MSCI country indices. Dimensional calculations from Bloomberg and MSCI data. Indices are not available for direct investment; therefore, their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio.
MARKETS AT WORK
Macroeconomic variables and investment decisions are like frozen turkeys and deep fryers—caution should be exercised when combining the two. The results presented here are consistent with markets aggregating and processing vast sets of macroeconomic indicators and expectations for those indicators. By incorporating this information into market prices, we believe public capital markets effectively become the best available leading macroeconomic indicator.
1. Researchers often cite a t-statistic value of 2.0 as the threshold for statistical reliability.
Macroeconomic data: Data used to measure the output of an economy, such as employment or production.
Gross domestic product: The total value of goods and services produced by, for example, a country over a set period of time.
Debt-to-GDP: The ratio of a company’s debt to its gross domestic product.
Fama/French Total US Market Research Index: The value-weighed US market index is constructed every month, using all issues listed on the NYSE, AMEX, or Nasdaq with available outstanding shares and valid prices for that month and the month before. Exclusions: American depositary receipts. Sources: CRSP for value-weighted US market return. Rebalancing: Monthly. Dividends: Reinvested in the paying company until the portfolio is rebalanced.
The information in this document is provided in good faith without any warranty and is intended for the recipient’s background information only. It does not constitute investment advice, recommendation, or an offer of any services or products for sale and is not intended to provide a sufficient basis on which to make an investment decision. It is the responsibility of any persons wishing to make a purchase to inform themselves of and observe all applicable laws and regulations. Unauthorized copying, reproducing, duplicating, or transmitting of this document are strictly prohibited. Dimensional accepts no responsibility for loss arising from the use of the information contained herein.
“Dimensional” refers to the Dimensional separate but affiliated entities generally, rather than to one particular entity. These entities are Dimensional Fund Advisors LP, Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd., Dimensional Ireland Limited, DFA Australia Limited, Dimensional Fund Advisors Canada ULC, Dimensional Fund Advisors Pte. Ltd, Dimensional Japan Ltd., and Dimensional Hong Kong Limited. Dimensional Hong Kong Limited is licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission to conduct Type 1 (dealing in securities) regulated activities only and does not provide asset management services.
UNITED STATES: Dimensional Fund Advisors LP is an investment advisor registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
CANADA: These materials have been prepared by Dimensional Fund Advisors Canada ULC. Commissions, trailing commissions, management fees, and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Unless otherwise noted, any indicated total rates of return reflect the historical annual compounded total returns, including changes in share or unit value and reinvestment of all dividends or other distributions, and do not take into account sales, redemption, distribution, or optional charges or income taxes payable by any security holder that would have reduced returns. Please read the prospectus before investing. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently, and past performance may not be repeated.
AUSTRALIA: This material is issued by DFA Australia Limited (AFS License No. 238093, ABN 46 065 937 671). This material is provided for information only. No account has been taken of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. Accordingly, to the extent this material constitutes general financial product advice, investors should, before acting on the advice, consider the appropriateness of the advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. Any opinions expressed in this material reflect our judgement at the date of publication and are subject to change.
Neither Dimensional Ireland Limited (DIL) nor Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd. (DFAL), as applicable (each an “Issuing Entity,” as the context requires), give financial advice. You are responsible for deciding whether an investment is suitable for your personal circumstances, and we recommend that a financial adviser helps you with that decision.
WHERE ISSUED BY DIMENSIONAL IRELAND LIMITED
Issued by Dimensional Ireland Limited (DIL), with registered office 10 Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2, D02 T380, Ireland. DIL is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland (Registration No. C185067). Information and opinions presented in this material have been obtained or derived from sources believed by DIL to be reliable, and DIL has reasonable grounds to believe that all factual information herein is true as at the date of this document.
DIL issues information and materials in English and may also issue information and materials in certain other languages. The recipient’s continued acceptance of information and materials from DIL will constitute the recipient’s consent to be provided with such information and materials, where relevant, in more than one language.
WHERE ISSUED BY DIMENSIONAL FUND ADVISORS LTD.
Issued by Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd. (DFAL), 20 Triton Street, Regent’s Place, London, NW1 3BF. DFAL is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Information and opinions presented in this material have been obtained or derived from sources believed by DFAL to be reliable, and DFAL has reasonable grounds to believe that all factual information herein is true as at the date of this document.
DFAL issues information and materials in English and may also issue information and materials in certain other languages. The recipient’s continued acceptance of information and materials from DFAL will constitute the recipient’s consent to be provided with such information and materials, where relevant, in more than one language.
Investments involve risks. The investment return and principal value of an investment may fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original value. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee strategies will be successful.
This document is deemed to be issued by Dimensional Fund Advisors Pte. Ltd., which is regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and holds a capital markets services license for fund management.
This advertisement has not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. This information should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any security for sale. All information is given in good faith without any warranty and is not intended to provide professional, investment, or any other type of advice or recommendation and does not take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situation, or needs of individual recipients. Before acting on any information in this document, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if appropriate, seek professional advice. Dimensional Fund Advisors Pte. Ltd. does not accept any responsibility and cannot be held liable for any person’s use of or reliance on the information and opinions contained herein. Neither Dimensional Fund Advisors Pte. Ltd. nor its affiliates shall be responsible or held responsible for any content prepared by financial advisors.
FOR PROFESSIONAL INVESTORS IN HONG KONG.
This document is deemed to be issued by Dimensional Hong Kong Limited (CE No. BJE760) (“Dimensional Hong Kong”), which is licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission to conduct Type 1 (dealing in securities) regulated activities only and does not provide asset management services.
This document should only be provided to “professional investors” (as defined in the Securities and Futures Ordinance [Chapter 571 of the Laws of Hong Kong] and its subsidiary legislation) and is not for use with the public. This document is not directed to any person in any jurisdiction where (by reason of that person’s nationality, residence, or otherwise) the publication or availability of this document are prohibited or which would subject Dimensional Hong Kong (including its affiliates) or any of Dimensional Hong Kong’s products or services to any registration, licensing, or other such legal requirements within such jurisdiction or country. When provided to prospective investors, this document forms part of, and must be provided together with, applicable fund offering materials. This document must not be provided to prospective investors on a standalone basis. Before acting on any information in this document, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if appropriate, seek professional advice.
Unauthorized copying, reproducing, duplicating, or transmitting of this material are prohibited. This document and the distribution of this document are not intended to constitute and do not constitute an offer or an invitation to offer to the Hong Kong public to acquire, dispose of, subscribe for, or underwrite any securities, structured products, or related financial products or instruments nor investment advice thereto. Any opinions and views expressed herein are subject to change. Neither Dimensional Hong Kong nor its affiliates shall be responsible or held responsible for any content prepared by financial advisors. Financial advisors in Hong Kong shall not actively market the services of Dimensional Hong Kong or its affiliates to the Hong Kong public.
JAPAN: Provided for institutional investors only. This document is deemed to be issued by Dimensional Japan Ltd., which is regulated by the Financial Services Agency of Japan and is registered as a Financial Instruments Firm conducting Investment Management Business and Investment Advisory and Agency Business. This material is solely for informational purposes only and shall not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation to buy securities or enter into investment advisory contracts. The material in this article and any content contained herein may not be reproduced, copied, modified, transferred, disclosed, or used in any way not expressly permitted by Dimensional Japan Ltd. in writing. All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice.
Dimensional Japan Ltd.
Director of Kanto Local Financial Bureau (FIBO) No. 2683
Membership: Japan Investment Advisers Association