And these days, the disconnect is even greater than usual.
For the recent rise in the market has been largely driven by a small number of technology giants. And the market values of these companies have very little to do with their current profits, let alone the state of the economy in general. Instead, they’re all about investor perceptions of the fairly distant future.
Take the example of Apple, with its $2 trillion valuation. Apple has a price-earnings ratio — the ratio of its market valuation to its profits — of about 33. One way to look at that number is that only around 3 percent of the value investors place on the company reflects the money they expect it to make over the course of the next year. As long as they expect Apple to be profitable years from now, they barely care what will happen to the U.S. economy over the next few quarters.
Furthermore, the profits people expect Apple to make years from now loom especially large because, after all, where else are they going to put their money? Yields on U.S. government bonds, for example, are well below the expected rate of inflation.
And Apple’s valuation is actually less extreme than the valuations of other tech giants, like Amazon or Netflix.
So big tech stocks — and the people who own them — are riding high because investors believe that they’ll do very well in the long run. The depressed economy hardly matters.
Unfortunately, ordinary Americans get very little of their income from capital gains, and can’t live on rosy projections about their future prospects. Telling your landlord not to worry about your current inability to pay rent, because you’ll surely have a great job five years from now, will get you nowhere — or, more accurately, will get you kicked out of your apartment and put on the street.
So here’s the current state of America: Unemployment is still extremely high, largely because Trump and his allies first refused to take the coronavirus seriously, then pushed for an early reopening in a nation that met none of the conditions for resuming business as usual — and even now refuse to get firmly behind basic protective strategies like widespread mask requirements.