It’s often said that the stock market is not the real economy, meaning: Wall Street traders make educated guesses about the future, so don’t read too much into this or that moment’s results. Stocks bounce around. GDP numbers, hiring and other data better reflect the nation’s health.
But if the stock market isn’t the real economy, it’s real life for tens of millions of Americans who have 401(k), IRA or other retirement savings. If you’re one of those people, check your mailbox or online account for second-quarter results to get a satisfying jolt: Your balance is rising. Because the economy continues to grow, and add jobs at a fast clip, 10 years into a record expansion. At this juncture, the stock market reflects the real economy.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index shot upward by 17% in the first half of 2019, the best result since 1997. The Dow Jones industrial average is up about 15% this year. This continues a prosperous streak for the markets since President Donald Trump was elected, vowing policies that would goose the prior steady but staid growth. From Election Day 2016 to July 2019, the Dow is up about 47%, the S&P 40%. With dividends reinvested, the Dow has risen at an annualized rate of 17.3%, the S&P 14.7%.
About those real-life implications: It’s not just the wealthy who benefit. Gallup polling suggests that about 54% of Americans own stocks either directly or via mutual funds, pension accounts and other retirement kitties.
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As of this month, the U.S. is in the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, surpassing the 1990s. The growth spurt began with the June 2009 end of the Great Recession. Stocks rebounded from devastating lows a few months earlier, delivering President Barack Obama a sensational result — a 149% jump in the Dow — over his eight years in office.
Ten years is a long time to sustain growth, yet under Trump the economy keeps going, and stocks keep rising — despite Trump’s ill-advised trade fights with China and Mexico. On Friday, the Labor Department said the U.S. created 224,000 new jobs in June — well above economists’ expectations. Wages grew 3.1% over the past year. The unemployment rate crept up to 3.7%, from 3.6%, and remains at or near historic lows for America’s minority groups. A quirk of the calculation: The jobless rate rose because more Americans have gone looking for work. One serious concern: More people paying taxes helps the government’s balance sheet, but without spending restraint from a profligate president and Congress, that alone won’t relieve a national debt that also continues to expand.
By cutting taxes and removing regulatory burdens, Trump’s administration has given private sector business owners confidence to invest in future growth — and to hire more employees. If he can resolve trade fights that have hurt Illinois farmers and raised the cost of doing business for many Illinois companies, he’ll help the economy and the markets extend their growth curves.
No, the stock market isn’t the economy. But it’s an important source of income and retirement security for many Americans. And for those who don’t own stocks, the expanding jobs market continues to offer real hope.