Why The Stock Market Matters

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My father was a career enlisted man in the United States Air Force. I was in the third or fourth grade when he graduated from high school. My mother graduated from high school after I was married. My dad worked for several companies after his Air Force career. He was working for Disney when he died. My mother worked part time in child care from time to time.

I tell you this to show that this is not a wealthy family. When my dad died, my mother received the standard Disney benefits. My guess is that those benefits were more generous than average for American business, but not extravagant.

My mother put the death-benefit funds at a bank trust department. They invested the funds in a portfolio that is standard for widows. Some of the funds were put in fixed securities. Some were invested in stocks that were considered safe. These funds, along with some fixed income securities, represent her liquid assets. Her only other assets are her survivor’s share of my father’s pensions, and a small condominium.

What has happened to her portfolio? Let’s look at the Dow for an indication. The Dow peaked at 14,164.53 on October 9, 2007. It was down to 13,264.82 by the end of 2007. It was only 8,776.39 at the close of 2008. Today, Monday, March 09, 2009, the Dow closed at 6,547.05.

Since its high, the Dow has lost 53.79 percent of its value. It lost 33.84 percent of its value in 2008. So far this year, it has lost another 25.40 percent. These are huge losses.

If we apply this year’s average daily loss, we are less than three days from a Dow value of 6,422.94. This was the value of the Dow at the closing on December 4, 1996, the day before Greenspan gave his famous quote on the market’s irrational exuberance. Remember that? It was a very long time ago. We’ve lost more than a decade’s gain in a remarkably short time.

When asked about the stock market, President Obama dismissed it as unimportant: “You know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics,” he said last week. “It bobs up and down day to day, and if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you’re probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong.” It is just a guess, but I’m thinking that if his poll numbers had declined over 25 percent this year, he’d be spending some time worrying.

A friend of mine dismisses the stock market losses as paper losses. He claims that the firms, factories and other assets still exist. I don’t buy that. If that is the case, why would we have mark-to-market rules? The fact is that many assets have vanished. They are gone. Many more are reduced in value. Certainly, today’s present value of future earnings — the fundamental source of stock value — is far below what it was on October 9, 2007.

Wealth has disappeared, and that disappearance has serious consequences to real people. Which brings me back to my mother: The combined impact of stock and real estate values has caused her net worth to fall over 50 percent. She’s half as wealthy as she was just a short time ago. That is a problem for her, and it is a problem for America.

Economists are notorious for disagreeing. However, the belief that people spend out of wealth is about as close to a consensus as one can find. My mother will confirm that belief with her actions. The children and grandchildren will get smaller gifts on their birthdays and at Christmas. She will travel less. She will eat out less. She’ll cut her spending.

There will be other impacts. My siblings expect an inheritance, and that inheritance is a significant portion of their wealth. Right now, with the inheritance being less than half of what it was, their wealth is down a lot. That means they’ll be spending less. That is a problem for America.

This sort of wealth destruction is happening to families across the country. It is happening to rich families and to families that are far from rich. The Dow has declined an average of about 50 points a trading day this year. Millions of American families, responding to the steady erosion of wealth, are cutting back their spending plans. This feedback from the stock market to the economy will likely swamp any stimulus plan.

The message is clear. The stock market matters. Its freefall must be halted before the recovery can begin.

Bill Watkins, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Economic Forecast Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also a former economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington D.C. in the Monetary Affairs Division.

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Stock market is one of the

Stock market is one of the most effective ways to grow your investments. Yes, it is a risk but this is one way to grow your money as well.

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I really love reading when it comes to stock market.

Thank you for sharing.

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stock market is now a great

stock market is now a great factor for all and also play a important role in every sectors.

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Thanks for very good posting on Stock Market Matters that will be more helpful and interesting also.Really Economists are notorious for disagreeing.

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Dow Futures

Dow Futures timing is very important for taking decisions. All the sale and purchase decisions have to taken quickly and correctly by the dealers in a live stock market otherwise; they might sustain serious financial loss.

Good article by Dr. Watkins.

Good article by Dr. Watkins. It interesting to look at these ideas in a global context. I'm not sure entirely of the wealth effect generated by the stock market. Surely, it divides good and bad investors to some extent. This is in the sense that it creates buying opportunities for savvy household investors during the period in which the market is down. If people investor at the top of the market and complain then perhaps they should be looking at other, less risky investments.

Hope of making money drives us all to the stock markets.

There is a lot of money that is involved in the stock markets and your money matters then the stock markets matter to you and the same goes for every investor, day trader, foreign institutional investors, domestic institutional investors, and so on so forth.

Making money is not easy in the stock markets either but hope of making money drives us all to the stock markets.

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America’s economy is going

America’s economy is going under. Lots of people have been jobless since recession has hit our country. Well, you can get personal loans for a SmartWay vehicle with a half percentage point off of your interest. This means that not only can you get a new car for cheaper; you also get a new car that isn't that bad for the environment. You may end up not needing debt relief thanks to the lower interest rates on loans for SmartWay cars.

I started online stock

I started online stock trading back in the early 2000's and had invested in some tech companies that i was familiar with. Since 2004 i've been buying stock in foreign companies after traveling around europe a few times a year i got to know familiar brands and companies over there. With a more stable economy then us in most of the EU countries it was a good investment.

Its freefall must be halted

Its freefall must be halted before the recovery can begin.

Please, avoid the passive construction and tell us who must do the halting. Do you recommend the government provide tax credits for buying stocks? Or write free put options to investors? Perhaps some TALF funds should be used to buy stocks directly? What is your policy advice?

All in all I think you're setting up a straw man argument. You only cite two sources that you claim dispute the wealth effect: an anonymous friend of yours (which we can safely ignore) and Obama. But Obama is not saying what you think he is. As of late he has been criticized, mostly from business conservatives, of spooking businesses and investors. The evidence they cite is the declining stock market. But Obama is pointing out that daily and weekly market movements, just like tracking polls over the same time, have very high noise-to-signal ratios. Prime example - last week the S&P was up about 12%. So does that mean that the economy has bottomed? That investors suddenly approve of the Obama Administration's plans? Who knows - the market is constantly reacting to new and conflicting information. And if the weekly movement of the market can't give you a meaningful consensus on the economy as a whole, there's no way you can tease out the long-term effect of one particular development. So Obama is concluding, correctly in my view, that he will not craft policies based on short-term market fluctuations just as he did not change his campaign message in response to short-term poll results. This is very different than saying that the stock market is unimportant.