I had a blog post a couple of days back in which I argued that rising stock prices reflected expectations of higher future corporate earnings, at least insofar as they were not just driven by irrational exuberance. Since no one seems to be expecting higher growth, the expectation of higher corporate profits presumably means that investors are expecting a redistribution of income away from workers and consumers to corporate profits. This is actually a plausible scenario given Donald Trump's proposed tax cuts and his plans for changing regulations in ways that will benefit corporations.
This is good news for the 10 percent or so of the population that holds substantial amounts of stock. It is pretty bad news for everyone else. In other words, you probably wouldn't want to be boasting about a run-up in stock prices unless you think it's good news to redistribute money from everyone else to the richest 10 percent and especially the richest one percent.
Narayana Kocherlakota, the former president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve district bank, and a very good economist, disagreed with my assessment. He cited work by John Cochrane arguing that stock market movements could be explained primarily by changes in risk premia. When I questioned whether risk premia had fallen since Trump was elected Kocherlakota tweeted back an index showing the spread between high yield (i.e. risky) corporate bonds and Treasury bonds. This index had indeed fallen since Donald Trump's election.
Breitbart decided to write up this exchange and expound on how Donald Trump was indeed making America great again and therefore reducing the risk that investors perceived in the economy. The only problem is that they left out my response tweet to Kocherlakota. In this tweet, I pointed out that the spread had just fallen back to its 2014 level.
This matters because if we think this index is a good measure of perceived risk, and if we think risk premia explain movements in the stock market, then we would expect the stock market in 2014 to have been close to its current level and we would have expected sharp declines in 2015 and 2016 as risk premia were rising. Of course, the market was considerably lower in 2014 than it is today. It rose throughout the next two years even as risk premia by this measure were increasing.
That would indicate that a fall in risk premia is not a good explanation of the run-up in stock prices in the last six months. The shift of income from workers and consumers to corporate profits is still the leading candidate.