Mostly True
Webb
"The stock market has almost tripled since April of 2009."

Jim Webb on Sunday, March 15th, 2015 in an interview on ABC's "This Week"

James Webb says stock market has tripled in value since 2009

Former Sen. James Webb, D-Va., is interviewed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos on March 15, 2015. We checked a claim by Webb on stock market gains.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 16, 2015.

Many Americans believe that the economic recovery has only recently picked up steam. But one group that is widely seen as benefiting in recent years are investors in the stock market. This is a point that former Sen. James Webb, D-Va. -- a potential longshot candidate for president who’s been taking an economic-populist approach -- made during an interview on ABC’s This Week.

On the March 15, 2015, edition of the show, host George Stephanopoulos brought up a comment by Webb that "powerful financial interests spending billions to elect people who think the current drift toward a permanent aristocracy is OK."

Webb explained his thinking this way:

"If you see what has been happening to our country over the past 20 or 25 years or so, with the economic model -- first, the model itself has broken apart. ... The employment model that was based on full-time employment, manufacturing-based, taking care of your working people, (it) fell apart a lot, when the manufacturing sector itself was hurt so bad in the past 20 years.

"But the other thing is … if you have capital, if you have assets, you're doing pretty well. The stock market has almost tripled since April of 2009. If you don't -- and this is particularly true right now with the generation that is coming into full adulthood -- they don't have that model anymore. They are doing part-time jobs, consultancy jobs, they've got student loans to pay off."

We wondered whether Webb was right that "the stock market has almost tripled since April of 2009." So we looked back at the historical data.

First, some background on the stock market. Companies that are publicly traded allow ownership shares to be sold on one of several stock exchanges. The values of a single share can rise or fall over time. Several different indexes are commonly used to measure the overall value of the market. We looked at four: the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is a smaller group of blue-chip stocks; the Standard & Poors 500, which offers a larger and broader mix of stocks; the NASDAQ Composite, which includes a lot of fast-growing technology stocks; and the Wilshire 5000, which includes the broadest list of publicly traded companies.

The following table summarizes the growth of these three measurements between April 1, 2009, and today.

 

Measure

April 1, 2009

March 16, 2015

Increase (multiple)

Dow Jones Industrial Average

7,762

17,977

2.3 times higher

Standard & Poors 500

811

2,081

2.6 times higher

NASDAQ Composite

1,552

4,930

3.2 times higher

Wilshire 5000

8242

21949

2.7 times higher

These numbers show that Webb is definitely right for the NASDAQ Composite (in fact, he underestimates a bit) and that he’s just about on target for the S&P 500 and the Wilshire 5000 if you round the figures upwards. Webb’s claim that the stock market "almost tripled" overshoots the increase for the Dow, which is 2.3 times higher now than in April 2009.

Still, Lawrence J. White, an economist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, warned that comparisons like Webb’s are sensitive to the choice of start and end dates, among other issues.

"For example, if one takes the Dow Jones Industrial Average and instead makes the comparison with its previous high in 2007, the increase is only 25 percent -- not the more-than doubling that occurred from its low point in 2009," he said. "And if one nets out inflation from that 25 percent increase, the 'real' increase in the stock market has been only about half of that increase."

Our ruling

Webb said that "the stock market has almost tripled since April of 2009." There are different ways to measure "the stock market." For three of the four most common yardsticks, Webb is basically right; for the other one, he’s off base, but not dramatically so. And it's worth noting that the period Webb chose maximizes the increase; a longer time horizon makes the gain more modest.

The statement is accurate but needs additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.