One of the more glaring lessons of the 2020 pandemic was that the economy and the stock market are not the same thing, nor do they necessarily move in lockstep. They are measurements of two different things, often indicating how the other will react. However, as we saw last year, the economy is a greater indicator of how Main Street is doing while the stock market is more a reflection of Wall Street.
The day-to-day performance of major stock indices, such as the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is not usually an accurate account of what’s happening in the lives of most Americans.1
As a general rule, economics is more of a social science. It conveys a picture that captures the interplay between real resources and human behavior. Finance, on the other hand, is a proactive measure. Its focus is on the tools and techniques of managing money.
We hear these two terms used interchangeably all the time, though, and that’s because they often do move in the same direction. That’s not what happened last year. While millions of Americans lost jobs and other sources of earned income, after an initial drop in the stock market, many investors saw their portfolios make ample gains. This was a good demonstration of how your money in the market could be working as another source of income. It’s another way of diversifying your assets, so that your investments can keeping earning money even if you can’t. Remember, we’re here to help you put your assets to work, so call on us if you need guidance.
Economics covers the production, consumption and distribution of goods and services and how people interact with them — through buying, selling, or working to buy or sell them — and how they react to price changes driven by supply, demand and inflation. It is, after all, people who drive economic activity and ultimately growth. There are two main branches of economics: macroeconomics and microeconomics.2
Macroeconomics measures the overall economy through factors such as inflation, price levels, rate of economic growth, national income, gross domestic product (GDP) and changes in employment levels.3 Microeconomics tracks specific factors within the economy, largely the choices made by people, households and industries. It is a study of the incentives behind those decisions and how they affect the use and distribution of resources.4
Finance, on the other hand, deals specifically with the use and distribution of money. As a discipline, it comprises three basic categories: public finance, corporate finance and personal finance. Within those realms, we often talk about the difference between Main Street and Wall Street. Main Street describes the average American investor as well as small independent businesses, while Wall Street consists of high net worth investors, large global corporations and the high finance capital markets.
There are inevitable conflicts between these two sectors. For example, government regulations frequently are designed to protect individual investors and/or small businesses, but they can pose a detriment to Wall Street profitability. The opposite can also be true, where benefits for large corporations can hurt small businesses, local jobs and small investors.5
Early on, the Federal Reserve and other central banks stepped up to infuse the economy with capital, thus stemming the tide of the economic decline. While these moves helped bolster the stock market, they did not prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs or stimulate consumerism. In other words, policy and even legislative intervention may have helped Wall Street, but it didn’t do that much to encourage economic growth or job creation.6