Reminder: Stock market is not the economy

A stock trader watches a monitor at the New York Stock Exchange.

Kai Ryssdal: We close the trading books on the month of April with the Dow Jones Industrial average at three-year highs. But that bit of market trivia comes with a caveat. Because when it comes to the economy people actually live in, Wall Street doesn't always know what it's talking about.

Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon reports.


Bob Moon: OK, maybe it sounds too simple, but all you really need to know about what the stock market has in common with the real economy, you might have learned on "Sesame Street." So let's play "One of these things is not like the other."

Over here, the stock market -- enjoying a brisk recovery. Compare that to unemployment -- still too high. Housing prices -- still sliding. And the greenbacks in your wallet have lost purchasing power.

Strangely, one of the things hurting consumers -- the sagging value of our currency -- is actually giving stocks a leg up. I reached Ted Weisberg of Seaport Securities on the trading floor today.

Ted Weisberg: A very weak dollar is actually beneficial to corporate America selling products offshore, if you will -- the emerging markets, where there has been a lot more growth than we are experiencing here in the U.S.

Economist Joel Naroff also points out that all those American workers companies dumped from the payrolls -- at the same time the rest of us were told to pedal faster -- that's allowed companies to produce more with less.

Joel Naroff: Limiting job growth is a mechanism to increase earnings, and that improves the stock market, but it doesn't improve job growth.

Dean Baker, at Washington's Center for Economic and Policy Research, says those painful pump prices are also filling Wall Street's tank.

Dean Baker: Exxon Mobil and the other big oil companies get higher profit margins. So a lot of what we might think of as bad for ordinary people can be good for corporate America. They're getting more money.

And he doesn't see an end to this cycle.

Baker: Firms have told us -- and they're right -- they're not going to go out and invest a huge amount if there's not demand for it. So we could be in for a very long slump.

Which is one more reason stocks are rising; there just aren't very many other options for growing our nest eggs, so we're still putting our money in the market.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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