Stock Returns, Expected Returns, and Real Activity



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    • Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago. The comments of Bradford Cornell, David Mayers, Merton Miller, Kevin Murphy, G. William Schwert, Rex Sinquefield, René Stulz, and especially Kenneth French are gratefully acknowledged. This research is supported by the National Science Foundation.


Measuring the total return variation explained by shocks to expected cash flows, time-varying expected returns, and shocks to expected returns is one way to judge the rationality of stock prices. Variables that proxy for expected returns and expected-return shocks capture 30% of the variance of annual NYSE value-weighted returns. Growth rates of production, used to proxy for shocks to expected cash flows, explain 43% of the return variance. Whether the combined explanatory power of the variables—about 58% of the variance of annual returns—is good or bad news about market efficiency is left for the reader to judge.