Hope is dying in the US.
The performance of financial markets affects everyone. For savers and investors, these markets represent the means to an improved life, at least as they define it. Savings and wealth provide options and opportunities, the quintessential aspect of being an American. These options and opportunities differentiated an American from someone who was born and destined to die in a hut or remain locked in a societal class from which there was no hope of escape.
Bonds and stocks were the primary means for savings and investments for generations of Americans. When these do not perform up to expectations, lives are changed. Plans and dreams are dashed. College educations, retirements and similar major events are deferred or never happen.
We are twelve years into this new century and Americans are losing their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Hard reality has crushed the optimistic spirit that once drove the country. The first decade rivaled the 1930s in terms of stock market performance. Twice, stock market wealth was halved in this ten-year period. Twelve years in, the S&P 500 has returned a total of 14%. That puny return has not come close to covering the decline in purchasing power of the dollar during the same period. Worse, a generation or two, has lost probably 33% of their wealth-producing years.
College graduates come out of school under-educated and buried in debt. Most cannot find a job commensurate with their education or aspirations. Taxes rise and will accelerate in the future as the federal debt and social promises become more binding. Young people find it difficult to imagine getting out from underneath their student loans or buying a home.
Outcomes in the housing and stock markets have affected millions. Equity in homes has dropped dramatically. Some have lost their homes as a result. Savings and wealth that were reasonably expected based on historical precedents did not materialize.
These outcomes are explained away in terms of markets "underperforming." To speak of housing and stocks as if they are independent entities that suddenly somehow turn bad is to miss what is really happening. Markets" are nothing more than millions of us making individual decisions intended to improve our lives. Markets do not under or overperform. It is people, the millions of buyers and sellers, that drive markets. When markets "underperform" it is because people have "underperformed" or more properly, bought less common stock or fewer homes.
People are acquisitative by nature, wanting more rather than less. When they "underperform" in terms of purchasing decisions it is because they had to. Unlike the federal government, people cannot print money or spend beyond their means, at least for extended periods of time. Eventually they hit budget constraints. That is what is being reflected in stock prices and home values. They are reflecting the lower standard of living of the country.
The feel-good spending of the prior two decades caught up with the American consumer. He was never as rich as he believed. Now, as a result of having to service this debt binge, he is poorer than he should be. That is why markets are underperforming. That and the fact that fewer people have jobs.