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Earnings Growth: The Two Percent Dilution

William J. Bernstein and Robert D. Arnott
Financial Analysts Journal
Vol. 59, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 2003), pp. 47-55
Published by: CFA Institute
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4480511
Page Count: 9
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Earnings Growth: The Two Percent Dilution
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Abstract

Two important concepts played a key role in the bull market of the 1990s. Both represent fundamental flaws in logic. Both are demonstrably untrue. First, many investors believed that earnings could grow faster than the macroeconomy. In fact, earnings must grow slower than GDP because the growth of existing enterprises contributes only part of GDP growth; the role of entrepreneurial capitalism, the creation of new enterprises, is a key driver of GDP growth, and it does not contribute to the growth in earnings and dividends of existing enterprises. During the 20th century, growth in stock prices and dividends was 2 percent less than underlying macroeconomic growth. Second, many investors believed that stock buybacks would permit earnings to grow faster than GDP. The important metric is not the volume of buybacks, however, but net buybacks--stock buybacks less new share issuance, whether in existing enterprises or through IPOs. We demonstrate, using two methodologies, that during the 20th century, new share issuance in many nations almost always exceeded stock buybacks by an average of 2 percent or more a year.

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