Sep 03

Economic Growth does not mean High Equity Returns

One of the more frequent queries I receive is from planners who want to invest their client’s funds into high economic growth countries of India, China, and emerging markets. My response is fairly standard in that I wonder why they believe that would provide their clients and the response is typically along the lines of “their growth potential is greater than the rest of the world”.

Last week, one of my favourite bloggers, Buttonwood (The Economist), provided commentary on this phenomenon, titled “The Growth Illusion“. I know I’m doubling up and perhaps you can read it yourself but in essence, “the faster an economy grows does not mean the faster corporate profits grow and therefore the investor receives higher returns”. A study performed performed by Dimson, Marsh and Staunton (they’re a few academics involved in the production of Credit Suisse’s Global Investment Returns Yearbook this year), showed that there was in fact a “negative correlation between investment returns and growth in GDP per capita, the best measure of how rich people are getting”…so no go there.

A second study showed that the better returns from 1990 to 2005 did not come from the highest growth economies. And a third study showed “no statistical link between one year GDP growth rate and the next year’s investment returns”.

Another study by Paul Marson of Lombard Odier, showed there is no correlation between GDP Growth and Stockmarket returns of Emerging Markets.

The most likely reasons for all of this rests with a few reasons stated in the Buttonwood blog…

  • the potential is already recognised and factored into prices so that they are bid up to very high levels
  • the stock market does not represent a country’s economy and vice versa
  • “growth is siphoned off by insiders at the risk of shareholders”

The best recent example I can think of is China. It may have had one of the best growth rates in 2008 but the sharemarket still crashed by 70%. With all of this good news flowing through for the month of August China’s stockmarket was still down 20% (albeit up by 70% beforehand). Maybe investing in a growth economy will produce the good or maybe it won’t, but as the first point above alludes to…everyone knows this so why wouldn’t it already be priced in?

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