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Wall Street vs Main Street: The Stock Market is Not the Economy

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Wall Street vs Main Street

Wall Street vs Main Street

This infographic is available as a poster.

Wall Street vs Main Street

In 2020, the stock market and the economy had a very public break up. The Wall Street vs Main Street divide—the gap between America’s financial markets and the economy—was growing. By the end of the year, the S&P 500 Index closed at a record high. In contrast, 20 million Americans remained unemployed, up from 2 million at the start of the year.

Was 2020 an outlier, or does the performance of the stock market typically diverge from the economy? In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we show U.S. economic growth and stock market performance over the last four decades, to see how closely the two relate.

GDP Growth and S&P 500 Returns

Here’s how annual GDP growth and S&P 500 Index returns stack up from 1980 to the second quarter of 2021. Both metrics are net of inflation.

YearReal GDP GrowthReal S&P 500 Returns
1980-0.3%13.9%
19812.5%-18.3%
1982-1.8%10.8%
19834.6%13.4%
19847.2%-2.5%
19854.2%23.0%
19863.5%12.9%
19873.5%-2.2%
19884.2%7.9%
19893.7%22.4%
19901.9%-12.4%
1991-0.1%23.4%
19923.5%1.4%
19932.8%4.4%
19944.0%-4.2%
19952.7%31.4%
19963.8%17.2%
19974.4%29.3%
19984.5%25.1%
19994.8%16.6%
20004.1%-13.5%
20011.0%-14.6%
20021.7%-26.0%
20032.9%24.5%
20043.8%5.8%
20053.5%-0.7%
20062.9%11.4%
20071.9%-0.6%
2008-0.1%-39.2%
2009-2.5%21.6%
20102.6%11.1%
20111.6%-3.1%
20122.2%11.6%
20131.8%28.3%
20142.5%10.9%
20153.1%-1.4%
20161.7%7.3%
20172.3%17.2%
20183.0%-8.1%
20192.2%26.8%
2020-3.5%14.9%
Q1 20211.5%4.5%
Q2 20211.6%5.8%

Note: For Q1 and Q2 2021, real GDP growth and inflation rates are quarterly rates and are seasonally adjusted.

More often than not, GDP growth and S&P 500 Index returns have both been positive. The late ‘90s saw particularly strong economic activity and stock performance. According to the White House, economic growth was bolstered by cutting the deficit, modernizing job training, and increasing exports. Meanwhile, increasing investor confidence and the growing tech bubble led to annual stock market returns that exceeded 20%.

In the selected timeframe, only 2008 saw a decline in both the stock market and the economy. This was, of course, caused by the Global Financial Crisis. Banks lent out subprime mortgages, or mortgages to people with impaired credit ratings. These mortgages were then pooled together and repackaged into investments such as mortgage-backed securities (MBS). When interest rates rose and home prices collapsed, this led to mortgage defaults and financial institution bankruptcies as many MBS investments became worthless.

Moving in Opposite Directions

What about when the Wall Street vs Main Street divide grows?

Historically, it has been more common to see positive GDP growth and negative stock performance. For example, real GDP grew by a whopping 7% in 1984 due to “Reaganomics”, such as tax cuts and anti-inflation monetary policy. However, the stock market declined as rising treasury yields of up to 14% made fixed income investments more attractive than equities.

On the other hand, in five of the six years with negative GDP growth, there have been positive stock returns. The most recent example of this is 2020. Real GDP declined by 3.5%, while the S&P 500 returned almost 15% net of inflation.

The Stock Market is not the Economy

There are a number of reasons why the stock market may not necessarily reflect what is happening in the economy.

  • The stock market reflects long-term views. A stock’s price factors in what investors think a company will earn in the future. If investors are confident in the likelihood of an economic recovery, stock prices will likely rise. In contrast, GDP growth is a hard measure of current activity.
  • Sector weightings in the stock market do not reflect their contributions to GDP. The stock market remained resilient in 2020 largely because technology, media, and telecom (TMT) stocks performed well. Despite making up 35% of the market cap of the largest 1,000 U.S. stocks, these companies only account for 8% of U.S. GDP. In contrast, hard-hit companies such as restaurants and gyms generate lots of jobs and contribute materially to GDP. However, many of these businesses accounted for a small portion of the stock market or are not even publicly listed.
  • Fiscal policy lags behind monetary policy. The U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) can act quickly. For instance, the Fed bought $1.7 trillion of Treasury securities between mid-March and June 2020 to stabilize financial markets. On the other hand, fiscal support requires legislative approvals. The U.S. government initially provided large-scale economic stimulus through the CARES Act in March 2020, but further relief packages were stalled due to political disagreements.

While many factors are at play, the above can help explain the Wall Street vs Main Street divide.

Wall Street vs Main Street: Together and Apart

Over the last 41 years, the economy and the stock market have moved in opposite directions almost as often as they have moved in the same direction. Here’s a summary of their movements from 1980-2020.

 # of Years
Stock Growth, GDP Growth22
Stock Decline, GDP Growth13
Stock Growth, GDP Decline5
Stock Decline, GDP Decline1

Since 1980, these time periods of differing performance have never lasted more than three consecutive years. In fact, one economist described the stock market and the unemployment rate as two people walking down the street, tethered by a rope.

”When the rope is slack, they move apart. But they can never get too far away from each other.”
—Roger Farmer, University of Warwick economist

After their public breakup in 2020, the Wall Street vs Main Street divide appears to have healed. In the first two quarters of 2021, both the stock market and the economy saw growth. Perhaps it’s easiest to sum up their relationship in two words: it’s complicated.

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Markets in a Minute

Mapped: GDP Growth Forecasts by Country, in 2023

The global economy faces an uncertain future in 2023. This year, GDP growth is projected to be 2.9%—down from 3.2% in 2022.

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GDP Growth

Mapped: GDP Growth Forecasts by Country, in 2023

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year, talk of global recession has dominated the outlook for 2023.

High inflation, spurred by rising energy costs, has tested GDP growth. Tightening monetary policy in the U.S., with interest rates jumping from roughly 0% to over 4% in 2022, has historically preceded a downturn about one to two years later.

For European economies, energy prices are critical. The good news is that prices have fallen recently since March highs, but the continent remains on shaky ground.

The map shows GDP growth forecasts by country for the year ahead, based on projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) October 2022 Outlook and January 2023 update.

2023 GDP Growth Outlook

The world economy is projected to see just 2.9% GDP growth in 2023, down from 3.2% projected for 2022.

This is a 0.2% increase since the October 2022 Outlook thanks in part to China’s reopening, higher global demand, and slowing inflation projected across certain countries in the year ahead.

With this in mind, we show GDP growth forecasts for 191 jurisdictions given multiple economic headwinds—and a few emerging bright spots in 2023.

Country / Region2023 Real GDP % Change (Projected)2022 Real GDP % Change (Projected)
🇦🇱 Albania2.5%4.0%
🇩🇿 Algeria2.6%4.7%
🇦🇴 Angola3.4%2.9%
🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda5.6%6.0%
🇦🇷 Argentina*2.0%4.0%
🇦🇲 Armenia3.5%7.0%
🇦🇼 Aruba2.0%4.0%
🇦🇺 Australia*1.6%3.8%
🇦🇹 Austria1.0%4.7%
🇦🇿 Azerbaijan2.5%3.7%
🇧🇭 Bahrain3.0%3.4%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh6.0%7.2%
🇧🇧 Barbados5.0%10.5%
🇧🇾 Belarus0.2%-7.0%
🇧🇪 Belgium0.4%2.4%
🇧🇿 Belize2.0%3.5%
🇧🇯 Benin6.2%5.7%
🇧🇹 Bhutan4.3%4.0%
🇧🇴 Bolivia3.2%3.8%
🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina2.0%2.4%
🇧🇼 Botswana4.0%4.1%
🇧🇷 Brazil*1.2%2.8%
🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam3.3%1.2%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria3.0%2.9%
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso4.8%3.6%
🇧🇮 Burundi4.1%3.3%
🇨🇻 Cabo Verde4.8%4.0%
🇨🇲 Cameroon4.6%3.8%
🇰🇭 Cambodia6.2%5.1%
🇨🇦 Canada*1.5%3.3%
🇨🇫 Central African Republic3.0%1.5%
🇹🇩 Chad3.4%3.3%
🇨🇱 Chile-1.0%2.0%
🇨🇳 China*5.3%3.2%
🇨🇴 Colombia2.2%7.6%
🇰🇲 Comoros3.4%3.0%
🇨🇷 Costa Rica2.9%3.8%
🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire6.5%5.5%
🇭🇷 Croatia3.5%5.9%
🇨🇾 Cyprus2.5%3.5%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic1.5%1.9%
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo6.7%6.1%
🇩🇰 Denmark0.6%2.6%
🇩🇯 Djibouti5.0%3.6%
🇩🇲 Dominica4.9%6.0%
🇩🇴 Dominican Republic4.5%5.3%
🇪🇨 Ecuador2.7%2.9%
🇪🇬 Egypt*4.0%6.6%
🇸🇻 El Salvador1.7%2.6%
🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea-3.1%5.8%
🇪🇷 Eritrea2.9%2.6%
🇪🇪 Estonia1.8%1.0%
🇸🇿 Eswatini1.8%2.4%
🇪🇹 Ethiopia5.3%3.8%
🇫🇯 Fiji6.9%12.5%
🇫🇮 Finland0.5%2.1%
🇫🇷 France*0.7%2.5%
🇲🇰 North Macedonia3.0%
🇬🇦 Gabon3.7%2.7%
🇬🇪 Georgia4.0%9.0%
🇩🇪 Germany*0.1%1.5%
🇬🇭 Ghana2.8%3.6%
🇬🇷 Greece1.8%5.2%
🇬🇩 Grenada3.6%3.6%
🇬🇹 Guatemala3.2%3.4%
🇬🇳 Guinea5.1%4.6%
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau4.5%3.8%
🇬🇾 Guyana25.2%57.8%
🇭🇹 Haiti0.5%-1.2%
🇭🇳 Honduras3.5%3.4%
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR3.9%-0.8%
🇭🇺 Hungary1.8%5.7%
🇮🇸 Iceland2.9%5.1%
🇮🇳 India*6.1%6.8%
🇮🇩 Indonesia*4.8%5.3%
🇮🇶 Iraq4.0%9.3%
🇮🇪 Ireland4.0%9.0%
🇮🇷 Iran*2.0%3.0%
🇮🇱 Israel3.0%6.1%
🇮🇹 Italy*0.6%3.2%
🇯🇲 Jamaica3.0%2.8%
🇯🇵 Japan*1.8%1.7%
🇯🇴 Jordan2.7%2.4%
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan*4.3%2.5%
🇰🇪 Kenya5.1%5.3%
🇰🇮 Kiribati2.4%1.0%
🇰🇷 South Korea*1.7%2.6%
🇽🇰 Kosovo3.5%2.7%
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.6%8.7%
🇰🇬 Kyrgyz Republic3.2%3.8%
🇱🇦 Lao P.D.R.3.1%2.2%
🇱🇻 Latvia1.6%2.5%
🇱🇸 Lesotho1.6%2.1%
🇱🇷 Liberia4.2%3.7%
🇱🇾 Libya17.9%-18.4%
🇱🇹 Lithuania1.1%1.8%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg1.1%1.6%
🇲🇴 Macao SAR56.7%-22.4%
🇲🇬 Madagascar5.2%4.2%
🇲🇼 Malawi2.5%0.9%
🇲🇾 Malaysia*4.4%5.4%
🇲🇻 Maldives6.1%8.7%
🇲🇱 Mali5.3%2.5%
🇲🇹 Malta3.3%6.2%
🇲🇭 Marshall Islands3.2%1.5%
🇲🇷 Mauritania4.8%4.0%
🇲🇺 Mauritius5.4%6.1%
🇲🇽 Mexico*1.7%2.1%
🇫🇲 Micronesia2.9%-0.6%
🇲🇩 Moldova2.3%0.0%
🇲🇳 Mongolia5.0%2.5%
🇲🇪 Montenegro2.5%7.2%
🇲🇦 Morocco3.1%08%
🇲🇿 Mozambique4.9%3.7%
🇲🇲 Myanmar3.3%2.0%
🇳🇦 Namibia3.2%3.0%
🇳🇷 Nauru2.0%0.9%
🇳🇵 Nepal5.0%4.2%
🇳🇱 Netherlands*0.6%4.5%
🇳🇿 New Zealand1.9%2.3%
🇳🇮 Nicaragua3.0%4.0%
🇳🇪 Niger7.3%6.7%
🇳🇬 Nigeria*3.2%3.2%
🇳🇴 Norway2.6%3.6%
🇴🇲 Oman4.1%4.4%
🇵🇰 Pakistan*2.0%6.0%
🇵🇼 Palau12.3%-2.8%
🇵🇦 Panama4.0%7.5%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea5.1%3.8%
🇵🇾 Paraguay4.3%0.2%
🇵🇪 Peru2.6%2.7%
🇵🇭 Philippines*5.0%6.5%
🇵🇱 Poland*0.3%3.8%
🇵🇹 Portugal0.7%6.2%
🇵🇷 Puerto Rico0.4%4.8%
🇶🇦 Qatar2.4%3.4%
🇨🇬 Republic of Congo4.6%4.3%
🇷🇴 Romania3.1%4.8%
🇷🇺 Russia*0.3%-3.4%
🇷🇼 Rwanda6.7%6.0%
🇼🇸 Samoa4.0%-5.0%
🇸🇲 San Marino0.8%3.1%
🇸🇹 São Tomé and Príncipe2.6%1.4%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia*2.6%7.6%
🇸🇳 Senegal8.1%4.7%
🇷🇸 Serbia2.7%3.5%
🇸🇨 Seychelles5.2%10.9%
🇸🇱 Sierra Leone3.3%2.4%
🇸🇬 Singapore2.3%3.0%
🇸🇰 Slovak Republic1.5%1.8%
🇸🇮 Slovenia1.7%5.7%
🇸🇧 Solomon Islands2.6%-4.5%
🇸🇴 Somalia3.1%1.9%
🇿🇦 South Africa*1.2%2.1%
🇸🇸 South Sudan5.6%6.5%
🇪🇸 Spain*1.1%4.3%
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka-3.0%-8.7%
🇰🇳 St. Kitts and Nevis4.8%9.8%
🇱🇨 St. Lucia5.8%9.1%
🇻🇨 St. Vincent and the Grenadines6.0%5.0%
🇸🇩 Sudan2.6%-0.3%
🇸🇷 Suriname2.3%1.3%
🇸🇪 Sweden-0.1%2.6%
🇨🇭 Switzerland0.8%2.2%
🇹🇼 Taiwan2.8%3.3%
🇹🇯 Tajikistan4.0%5.5%
🇹🇿 Tanzania5.2%4.5%
🇹🇭 Thailand*3.7%2.8%
🇧🇸 The Bahamas4.1%8.0%
🇬🇲 The Gambia6.0%5.0%
🇹🇱 Timor-Leste4.2%3.3%
🇹🇬 Togo6.2%5.4%
🇹🇴 Tonga2.9%-2.0%
🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago3.5%4.0%
🇹🇳 Tunisia1.6%2.2%
🇹🇷 Turkey*3.0%5.0%
🇹🇲 Turkmenistan2.3%1.2%
🇹🇻 Tuvalu3.5%3.0%
🇺🇬 Uganda5.9%4.4%
🇺🇦 UkraineN/A-35.0%
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates4.2%5.1%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom*-0.6%3.6%
🇺🇲 U.S.*1.4%1.6%
🇺🇾 Uruguay3.6%5.3%
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan4.7%5.2%
🇻🇺 Vanuatu3.1%1.7%
🇻🇪 Venezuela6.5%6.0%
🇻🇳 Vietnam6.2%7.0%
West Bank and Gaza3.5%4.0%
🇾🇪 Yemen3.3%2.0%
🇿🇲 Zambia4.0%2.9%
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe2.8%3.0%

*Reflect updated figures from the January 2023 IMF Update.

The U.S. is forecast to see 1.4% GDP growth in 2023, up from 1.0% seen in the last October projection.

Still, signs of economic weakness can be seen in the growing wave of tech layoffs, foreshadowed as a white-collar or ‘Patagonia-vest’ recession. Last year, 88,000 tech jobs were cut and this trend has continued into 2023. Major financial firms have also followed suit. Still, unemployment remains fairly steadfast, at 3.5% as of December 2022. Going forward, concerns remain around inflation and the path of interest rate hikes, though both show signs of slowing.

Across Europe, the average projected GDP growth rate is 0.7% for 2023, a sharp decline from the 2.1% forecast for last year.

Both Germany and Italy are forecast to see slight growth, at 0.1% and 0.6%, respectively. Growth forecasts were revised upwards since the IMF’s October release. However, an ongoing energy crisis exposes the manufacturing sector to vulnerabilities, with potential spillover effects to consumers and businesses, and overall Euro Area growth.

China remains an open question. In 2023, growth is predicted to rise 5.2%, higher than many large economies. While its real estate sector has shown signs of weakness, the recent opening on January 8th, following 1,016 days of zero-Covid policy, could boost demand and economic activity.

A Long Way to Go

The IMF has stated that 2023 will feel like a recession for much of the global economy. But whether it is headed for a recovery or a sharper decline remains unknown.

Today, two factors propping up the global economy are lower-than-expected energy prices and resilient private sector balance sheets. European natural gas prices have sunk to levels seen before the war in Ukraine. During the height of energy shocks, firms showed a notable ability to withstand astronomical energy prices squeezing their finances. They are also sitting on significant cash reserves.

On the other hand, inflation is far from over. To counter this effect, many central banks will have to use measures to rein in prices. This may in turn have a dampening effect on economic growth and financial markets, with unknown consequences.

As economic data continues to be released over the year, there may be a divergence between consumer sentiment and whether things are actually changing in the economy. Where the economy is heading in 2023 will be anyone’s guess.

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Markets in a Minute

Chart: The State of U.S. Retirement Assets in 2022

U.S. retirement assets have faced challenging conditions amid market headwinds—but over the last decade these assets have nearly doubled.

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U.S. Retirement Assets in 2022

This infographic is available as a poster.

Chart: The State of U.S. Retirement Assets in 2022

Today, many people are questioning the effects of high inflation on their retirement assets.

This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments charts the state of U.S. retirement assets to show how Americans are building their retirement savings, and where these assets are being drawn from.

U.S. Retirement Assets: Where it Stands Today

As of 2022, there was over $33 trillion being held in U.S. retirement assets.

For perspective, that’s about 31% of all household financial assets in America and nearly double the amount seen a decade ago. In the table below, we show how this breaks down by retirement asset type, using data from the Investment Company Institute:

Type of Retirement Asset2022*2012200219921982
IRAs$11.7T$5.8T$2.5T$872B$67B
DC Plans$9.3T$5.2T$2.6T$1.1T$264B
State and Local Government DB Plans$5.1T$3.2T$2.1T$958B$260B
Private-Sector DB Plans$3.2T$2.7T$1.7T$1.1T$479B
Federal DB Plans$2.2T$1.3T$800B$411B$99B
Annuities$2.2T$1.7T$899B$473B$180B
Total $33.7T$19.9T$10.5T$5.0T$1.3T

*As of Q2 2022.

As seen above, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) hold the most retirement assets, at 34% of the total. Since 2012, they have doubled, jumping from $5.8 trillion to $11.7 trillion in 2022.

Today, about 37% of Americans hold an IRA.

With $9.3 trillion in assets, defined contribution (DC) plans are the second-greatest source of savings. These type of plans have the employee make contributions that are automatically deducted from their paycheck. Here, employers have the option to make contributions. Like IRAs, they have grown considerably in the last 10 years.

Defined benefit (DB) plans, meanwhile, have declined in usage, especially in the private sector. In 1982, private-sector DB plans made up almost 40% of U.S. retirement assets. In 2022, they accounted for under 10% of these assets.

Overall, retirement assets have declined in 2022 due to weak market performance—after a record year in 2021 driven by higher contributions, a strong market, and other factors.

U.S. Financial Security in 2022

With these factors at play, how are Americans feeling about their financial security, and how is this impacting their retirement outlook?

In one Ipsos survey, just 56% of Americans surveyed said they felt good about their overall level of financial security.

When it comes to their long-term outlook, chief among concerns is inflation. Over half surveyed said that it will likely have a big impact on their ability to save for retirement and meet other long-term financial goals. Rising interest rates and medical costs are other areas of concern, with about one-third saying they will have a large impact on achieving these outcomes.

Meanwhile, 59% of Americans said they feel confident they have enough savings to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Of these, Baby Boomers feel most confident at 70%, while Gen Z (48%) feels least confident.

The good news is that inflation looks to have hit its peak in the summer of 2022. Still, reaching a 2-3% target may take a longer period of time. With this in mind, looking to investment strategies that include floating-rate bonds and real estate, infrastructure, and value equities may help insulate retirement assets from market fluctations and inflation.

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