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ETF Specialist

Economic Growth: Great for Everyone but Investors?

While it may be intuitive to presume strong economic growth translates into strong stock market performance, the evidence suggests otherwise.

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By 2050 the world's population is projected to reach 9 billion, up from 7 billion today. Nearly all of that growth will come from emerging markets, where living standards are rapidly improving. Although these markets have experienced large capital inflows, they still have a long way to go to match developed countries' levels of capital and wages. Consequently, emerging markets will likely continue to grow faster than developed markets for the foreseeable future. While this growth may lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and spur investment and innovation, evidence suggests investors may be left behind.

Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida, documented a negative relationship between economic growth and stock market returns in his seminal research paper, "Economic Growth and Equity Returns," published in 2005. Ritter's findings are no fluke. Using real gross domestic product data from the Penn World Tables and stock market returns, as proxied by the total return version of each market's MSCI country index, I found a weak negative correlation between GDP growth and stock market returns for 41 countries from 1988 to 2010. This relationship is plotted in the chart below. However, excluding China (the outlier at the bottom right of the chart) brings the correlation close to zero.

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Alex Bryan does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.