Real Growth in Canadian Stocks Over 95 Years

Jason Kirby, a senior editor at Maclean’s, assembled “The most important charts for the Canadian economy in 2016“, with contributions from ‘economists, analysts, investors, and financial bloggers’. This year’s edition is jam packed with 50 charts. (Earlier this year, he put together a similar compendium titled “35 ways to look at the economy on budget day“. Given that some time has passed, it’s interesting to take a second look at the earlier charts.)

I contributed to both sets of charts, but wanted to highlight my latest contribution, and expand on it (ever so slightly).

The first thing to note is that my submissions (from both compilations) are less timely, in a sense, than most of the other charts. They are less timely in that there is nothing really new or topical like some of the great charts that show recent employment trends, perspectives on oil, the loonie, and more. At the same time, I feel that longer term perspectives are as “timely” as ever, if for no other reason than to reiterate that there have been many previous periods of precarity and uncertainty, and yet the world keeps spinning. Well, at least for now.

I actually submitted two charts. The inflation-adjusted (to October 2015 dollars) growth in the headline Canadian stock market index going back to 1920 using an arithmetic index point scale, and then the exact same data using a logarithmic index point scale. Note: these are the price-only data. I don’t have the total return data on hand going back to 1920.

First, let’s look at the chart with an arithmetic scale.


The problem with using an arithmetic scale is that it’s magnifying the recent price moves. If you look at the index moving from 10,000 to 12,000, that 2,000 point move is 20%. But if you go back to the beginning of the chart, that same 2,000 point move, if starting from an index level of 2,000 points, is a 100% move. To adjust for this, we can use a logarithmic scale which essentially makes any vertical moves equivalent on a relative basis at any point along the chart. And when you do that, you see just how much more wild the time leading up to, and including, The Great Depression was, and how what’s been happening lately is really just par for the course in the context of long time horizons.

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Hat tip to Catherine Mulbrandon of Visualizing Economics for the inspiration for these charts. She had done something similar for US stocks going back to 1871.


Preet Banerjee
Preet Banerjee an independent consultant to the financial services industry and a personal finance commentator. You can learn more about Preet at his personal website and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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Showing 5 comments
  • Michael James

    One thing I like about these long-term charts is that they show how ridiculous it is to extrapolate from short-term movements. For example, in the log chart, the trend leading up to the year 2000 would have stocks at about a million by today. Maybe all investors should be made to look at a long-term chart before they make trades.

    • Preet Banerjee

      Agreed. There is an interesting simulator somewhere (I’ll have to hunt for the link later), that randomly selects a 10 year time frame from the S&P500 and allows you to sell once, and buy once as it runs through the market movements on your screen. I think it takes about 1 minute to run through the 10 years. Much more often than not, simply not doing anything would yield the best result for anyone who tries it.

  • Allan Hunt

    A little work with a financial calculator shows compound growth over 95 years of 5.128 (from approximately 1950 in 1920, to 10000 in 2015). That’s a CAGR of 1.7 %. Looked at that way, it doesn’t seem very impressive? There is still dividend growth on top of that, but it suggests that just on price alone it is only approximately money markets. It also implies that you must buy for dividend growth and and not pure capital growth plays?

    • Preet Banerjee

      Hi Allan:

      It’s hard to eyeball from the chart, but usual the actual data points (which I have from January, 1919 to October 2015), the CAGR is 2.5%. But since these are real rates, and assuming money market = inflation rates approximately, that’s 2.5% over and above the risk-free rate.

      Nonetheless, dividends are important and but not included on the chart. That would only make the results look better.

  • Dave MacLean

    So assuming long-term inflation rate =3% and say dividends add an extra 2%, we’re looking at a long-term Gross CAGR of 7.5% (2.5+3+2). Which is totally in line with the long-term historical data reported over the years. The kicker is when you take off the 2.5% MER… which, of course, you’ve written about ad nauseam on your blog over the years. :)