Reports of the Death of Equities Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Explaining Equity Returns

August 10, 2012

It is worth understanding where the returns to equities come from, and why, after a 12-year period in which U.S. equity returns have been negative, we can still be confident that the returns will, after all, be there in the long run.
-Ben Inker, head of asset allocation, GMO

We will begin with a summary of our basic points:

1) GDP growth and stock market returns do not have any particularly obvious relationship, either empirically or in theory.

2) Stock market returns can be significantly higher than GDP growth in perpetuity without leading to any economic absurdities.

3) The most plausible reason to expect a substantial equity risk premium going forward is the extremely inconvenient times that equity markets tend to lose investors' money.

4) The only time it is rational to expect that equities will give their long-term risk premium is when the pricing of the stock market gives enough cash flow to shareholders to fund that return.

5) Disappointing returns from equity markets over a period of time should not be viewed as a signal of the "death of equities." Such losses are necessary for overpriced equity markets to revert to sustainable levels, and are therefore a necessary condition for the long-term return to equities to be stable.

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