Is This Time Truly Different?

Dr. Jeffrey Roach | Chief Economist

Market pundits often shy away from the admission that “this time is different.” But why should we be afraid of that? Markets and the economy are still adjusting to an era of higher rates, a remote labor force, and a global economy filled with political uncertainty. There are a few things that are different, and it’s important to remember investors can find opportunities amid the flux.  

This LPL Research blog will share a few charts, but for more, check out the Econ Market Minute about the diverging paths among retailers.

E-commerce is Gaining Greater Wallet Share

One thing different right now is post-pandemic shopping behavior. As noted in the chart below, the pandemic accelerated the use of e-commerce. Consumers shifted to online shopping, and so far, that habit seems to have stuck. Consumers are shunning department stores, instead choosing to shop online and hunt for bargains and prefer the convenience of e-commerce. This shift has ramifications for retailers working to gain wallet share.

Business Shutdowns Accelerated the Use of E-commerce — the Shift to Online Sales is Sticking

Line graph depicting nonstore retail sales from November 2016 to November 2023 found the shift to online sales is sticking, in billions of dollars.

Source: LPL Research, U.S. Census Bureau 12/15/23
Disclosures: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

GDP Overstates Growth

Another part of the economy that’s different this time around is Gross Domestic Income (GDI). The last time we had such a gap between these GDI and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures was 2007, when the economy was about to experience a recession. GDP and GDI are corresponding measures of the economy but should match. GDP is all the spending by businesses, consumers, and the government, whereas GDI is the aggregate wages, salaries, corporate profits, and other incomes generated by economic activity.

The Economy is Not as Strong as it Seems — as GDI Indicates

Line graph depicting the difference between Gross Domestic Income and Gross Domestic Product from 1980–2023 as described in the preceding paragraph.

Source: LPL Research, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis 12/20/23
Disclosures: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

As investors set expectations for the new year, it’s important to take note of the opportunities available.

A Catalyst for Homebuilders

I mentioned a relatively large percentage of remote workers. This new regime has ramifications for the housing market. Typically, investors would think the residential real estate market is one of the most interest rate sensitive areas of the economy. But when households are less constrained by the job market, when homebuilders can buy down rates for prospective buyers, and when inventories of existing homes are at near-cycle lows, investors will likely witness a catalyst for homebuilders. 

The low inventory of existing homes for sale was a catalyst for homebuilders in recent months. Housing starts in November were much higher than in 2019 as homebuilders got creative with buying down mortgage rates for buyers. We are noticing strength in both single-family and multi-family activity as homebuilders take advantage of the low supply of existing homes on the market. Most of the housing starts were in the South as hybrid work continues to be a boon for households seeking a lower cost of living. Investors have clearly rewarded homebuilders, as low inventory of existing homes on the market has created an opportunity for new construction. Falling mortgage rates also helped ignite demand. 


Investors should expect to find opportunities despite the uncertainty about the upcoming year. Political tensions remain elevated around the globe, consumers still have rising debt burdens, and governments are saddled with debt. Yet, opportunities remain, and savvy investors will find them.


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