Stock Market Capitalization-to-GDP Ratio

Shows the difference between the entire value of current economic and predicted future economic activity that has been discounted to the present. 

Author: Kevin Henderson
Kevin Henderson
Kevin Henderson
Private Equity | Corporate Finance

Kevin is currently the Head of Execution and a Vice President at Ion Pacific, a merchant bank and asset manager based Hong Kong that invests in the technology sector globally. Prior to joining Ion Pacific, Kevin was a Vice President at Accordion Partners, a consulting firm that works with management teams at portfolio companies of leading private equity firms.

Previously, he was an Associate in the Power, Energy, and Infrastructure Investment Banking group at Lazard in New York where he completed numerous M&A transactions and advised corporate clients on a range of financial and strategic issues. Kevin began his career in corporate finance roles at Enbridge Inc. in Canada. During his time at Enbridge Kevin worked across the finance function gaining experience in treasury, corporate planning, and investor relations.

Kevin holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from Queen's University and is a CFA Charterholder.

Reviewed By: Andy Yan
Andy Yan
Andy Yan
Investment Banking | Corporate Development

Before deciding to pursue his MBA, Andy previously spent two years at Credit Suisse in Investment Banking, primarily working on M&A and IPO transactions. Prior to joining Credit Suisse, Andy was a Business Analyst Intern for Capital One and worked as an associate for Cambridge Realty Capital Companies.

Andy graduated from University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and is currently an MBA candidate at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business with a concentration in Analytical Finance.

Last Updated:December 8, 2023

What Is the Stock Market Capitalization-to-GDP Ratio?

The Stock Market capitalization-to-GDP ratio is used to assess whether a market is generally undervalued or overpriced compared to a historical average stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio.

Depending on the variables used in the computation, the ratio can be used for the worldwide market or to focus on particular markets, such as the U.S. market. You can calculate this by dividing the stock market capitalization by the gross domestic product (GDP).

In honor of investor Warren Buffett, who popularized its use, the stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio is frequently referred to as the Buffett Indicator.

The GDP ratio to the entire U.S. stock market value is known as the Buffett Indicator. The ratio was given Warren Buffett's name because Buffett referred to it as "the finest single indication of where values are at any given moment.

In essence, it shows the difference between the entire value of current economic activity and the value of predicted future economic activity that has been discounted to the present. 

It resembles the price-to-earnings ratio, frequently used to determine the worth of individual companies in this regard.

What Does the Stock Market Cap to GDP Ratio Measure?

The stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio is a measurement of the total market value of all publicly listed equities divided by the gross domestic product of that economy. The ratio evaluates the total value of all stocks with the nation's overall production.

After Warren Buffett stated that it was "probably the finest single indicator of where values are at any given moment," the stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio gained popularity.

It is a measurement of the total market value of all publicly listed equities divided by the gross domestic product of that economy. 

The ratio evaluates the total value of all stocks with the nation's overall production. The proportion of GDP that corresponds to stock market value is the outcome of this calculation.

Most analysts use The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index, which is an index that measures the value of all companies in the U.S. markets, to determine the aggregate worth of all publicly listed equities in the country. 

The ratio is calculated using the quarterly GDP as the denominator. 

The market is often deemed overvalued if the result is larger than 100% and undervalued if the result is less than 50%, which is close to the historical average for the U.S. market.

Market valuation might be undervalued if the valuation ratio is between 50% and 75%.

Additionally, if the ratio is between 75% and 90%, the market may be well-priced, and if it is between 90% and 115%, it may be mildly overvalued.

Given that the ratio has been rising for a while, it has been highly contested in recent years as to what percentage level is correct in demonstrating undervaluation and overvaluation.

The market for initial public offerings (IPOs) and the proportion of publicly traded vs. privately held enterprises influence the market cap to GDP ratio.

Even if nothing has changed in value, the market cap to GDP ratio will rise if there is a significant increase in public firms compared to private firms.

Formula and Calculation of the Stock Market Capitalization-to-GDP Ratio

Simply dividing a country's entire market capitalization by its GDP for the preceding 12 months yields the ratio. Although the U.S. market is mentioned in this formula, it may be used in any nation.

The Buffett Indicator: What Is It? We may determine the Buffett indicator by dividing the overall stock market value by the nation's GDP. The typical method is to divide the overall value of the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index by the entire U.S. GDP to arrive at this amount.

Buffett indicator = Total Value of all U.S. stocks/ U.S. GDP X 100

The US Wilshire 5000 index, a market capitalization-weighted index of the 5,000 most valuable listed corporations, is most frequently used to generate the Buffett Indicator. 

As long as it contains the bulk of publicly traded firms and is utilized regularly, the index of choice is not important.

Warren Buffett initially utilized the US GNP and the total value of U.S. equities, as reported in the Federal Reserve Economic Data publication (FRED). Therefore, using a different index and GDP will provide somewhat different figures.

Over the past 100 years, the Buffett Indicator has exhibited an upward trend. Sometimes the indicator is dented to account for this. This indicates that the historical ratio is changed to keep the long-term average constant.

An approach normally used with the indicator is to express the comparison in terms of percentages or standard deviations from the mean of the indicator's historical average. This strategy explains why the indicator has shown a long-term upward trend.

With that being said, some good Buffett Indicator level for investing is:

1. High Percentage 

It is to provide the comparison as a difference in percentages or standard deviations from the historical average of the indicator. This approach accounts for the indicator's long-term increasing trend.

2. Average Percentage

The Buffett indicator's current long-term average is close to 120%. This may be seen as the stock market's "fair value."

3. Low Percentage

One to one and a half standard deviations, or 40 to 50 percent, below the long-term average, have been the indicator's lowest values. However, when the index was at or slightly below the long-term average, equity prices also experienced significant lows.

Example of How to Use the Stock Market Capitalization-to-GDP Ratio

Let's compute the market capitalization of the United States as a historical example. GDP ratio for the 2017 third-quarter period ended September 30. 

The market cap to GDP ratio is:

Market Cap to GDP =  $26.1 trillion/ $17.2 trillion × 100 = 151.7%

This formula will be computed to indicate whether the Market cap to GDP is overvalued or undervalued. 

In this instance, the stock market's whole value equals 151.7% of GDP, which shows that it is overpriced.

The market cap to GDP ratio for the United States was 153% in 2000, according to data from The World Bank, another indication of an overpriced market. 

This ratio may have some predictive value in identifying market peaks, given the rapid decline in the U.S. market following the implosion of the dot-com bubble.

However, the ratio was still too high in 2003 at roughly 130%, and despite this, the market went on to record highs during the following few years. In 2020, the ratio will be around 150%.

The proportion of public firms compared to private enterprises in the economy impacts the market cap to GDP ratio's value. Patterns also affect the value of the ratio in newly public firms' initial public offerings.

Using these rules for how the stock market is valued and how GDP is computed, we can compare the corresponding growth rates of either measure.

A rise in the equity market of 5% over a year indicates that investors collectively believe the present value of future cash flows increased by 5% during that time. 

On the other hand, the real, measured production rose by that much over the previous year when the GDP increased by 5% in a year.

Although economists and investors may consider the most recent growth rate for projecting future growth in economic activity and profitability, the GDP rise is merely historical and says nothing about what could happen in the future.

Understanding How the Stock Market Affects GDP

GDP is significant since it provides information on the size and health of an economy. Real GDP growth is frequently used to gauge the economy's overall health. Generally, real GDP growth is a positive indicator of the economy's health.

Gross domestic product (GDP) can be positively or negatively impacted by the stock market, which frequently serves as a sentiment indicator. 

Consumers and businesses have greater wealth and confidence during a bull market, which results in increased spending and a higher GDP. 

When stock values decline, individuals and businesses are less wealthy and optimistic, resulting in reduced GDP.

The stock market frequently serves as an indicator of sentiment and can influence GDP. The GDP measures the output of all products and services in an economy. Economic mood fluctuates along with the ups and downs in the stock market.

Although the stock market may have both good and negative influences on GDP, people's spending ultimately drives GDP growth as mood changes.

For instance, consumption, lending, and borrowing rates tend to rise when borrowing is more convenient. In the near run, greater consumption, lending, and borrowing rates are associated with higher expenditure levels, total economic production, and, presumably, GDP. 

We must first examine what propels economic growth to ascertain how the markets affect GDP. Spending and investment are the main drivers of the GDP of the U.S. economy.

A percentage growth rate of GDP is frequently displayed from one period to the next.

For instance, if the quarter-to-quarter growth rate is 2%, the annualized growth rate for the U.S. economy in that quarter was 2%. 

Here are a few of the important factors that contribute to GDP:

  • The U.S. GDP is mostly driven by consumer spending.
  • Business spending involves:
    • Recruiting.
    • Investing in new technologies.
    • Purchasing machinery and equipment.
    • Constructing new offices and factories.
  • Exports are purchases made by local businesses from clients abroad. Building roads and bridges, and providing subsidies to various businesses, such as agriculture, are examples of government spending.
  • Investors may collectively influence these factors through the stock market in either a positive or negative way. 

What is the Link between GDP and equity returns?

There is a difference between an economy's rise in total earnings and its growth in earnings per portion to which the present shareholders are entitled.

These two growth rates sometimes coincide, considering a variety of factors have the potential to reduce overall profitability.

A percentage of GDP growth is generated by increases in total capital, such as new share issuances, rights offerings, or IPOs present investors cannot access their earnings. So, investors only sometimes benefit from new firms' income. 

When purchasing stock in emerging companies, they must invest in the "old" economy or put more money into them. Due to this dilution, the current investor increase in EPS will be slower than the growth in total earnings.

The difference between the basic measure of dilution proposed by Bernstein and Arnott is the 

increase in a market's total market capitalization and the performance of the total market index.

According to extremely long-term U.S. statistics, this dilution is expected to result in a 2% reduction.

Some caveats to this assumption include the following:

1. Domestic GDP growth is just half of the story if international corporations dominate an equity market since equity investors are interested in the revenue and cash flows from all locations where a firm operates, not just it's home country.

2. The income distribution between capital and labor, which is included in GDP, can change over time. As a result, equity values will be largely based on projected income flowing to capital, as equity investors are capital owners.

3. Many critics only consider the upcoming quarter or year when referencing predicted GDP growth, but equity investors are concerned with profitability over a long period.

This distinction is particularly crucial when interest rates are low, and a sizable amount of the market's value is the present value of earnings anticipated years in the future.

4. Although complicated, the relationship between GDP growth, equity prices, and interest rates can have unexpected results.

For instance, the Federal Reserve may decrease interest rates to stimulate the economy when GDP growth is low or negative, which, on the other hand, might quickly increase the present value of future cash flows (and, therefore, the value of stocks). 

Conversely, when GDP growth is strong, the Fed may hike rates, ultimately lowering the value of stocks.

Researched and authored by Dua Bakhsh | LinkedIn

Reviewed and Edited by Raghav Dharmarajan

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