Breaking down the Wall St.-Main St. disconnect
You see it all the time: Booming times for Wall Street banks and investors, while life for ordinary Americans remains, well, ordinary.
Michael Hartnett, who as chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch gets a front-row seat to the disconnect, said the reasons for it come to three "Ps": Policy, positioning and profits.
In a note to clients, he broke it down by each "P":
Policy: The provision of central bank liquidity has been massive ($6 trillion of central bank buying of assets in the past seven years).
Positioning: With little demand for money in a deleveraging economy, liquidity has waded into financial markets, reducing risk-premia and boosting underowned assets such as equities.
Profits: Corporate austerity since the Great Financial Crisis has induced record corporate profits ($1.6 trillion) and record levels of corporate cash ($1.2 trillion), an asset-positive, growth-negative combo.
One big number helps make the situation clear: While the U.S. economy has grown by $1.3 trillion since the March 2009 lows, stock market wealth has swelled by $12 trillion.
(Read more: On Main Street, jobs numbers miss the real story)
So the S&P 500 makes a succession of record highs and boosts the wealth of holders of financial assets, and the unemployment rate creeps along at 7.4 percent while job creation was a lackluster 162,000 in July.
Hartnett thinks the one hope for reconciling the two sides lies ahead, as the Federal Reserve ponders normalized monetary policy that would reward savers but also might take the starch out of the risk-asset momentum.
More from his note:
Significant monetary stimulus, the end of fiscal austerity, a booming housing market, a cheap dollar, record corporate cash balances … if the U.S economy does not significantly accelerate in coming quarters, it likely never will. Our base case is that economic growth will pick up, and thus favor assets (e.g. equities), sectors (e.g. banks) and markets (e.g. Europe - Chart) that have lagged in the "High Liquidity-Low Growth" world of recent years.
Investors anticipate that the Fed will start unwinding its $85 billion a month bond-buying program known as quantitative easing, probably starting as early as September and culminating in mid-2014.
(Read more: Bonds take swiftturn, but Fed taper on track)
Interest rates, though, are probably on a much longer trajectory, with no interest rate hikes at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent and the government inflation measure increases to 2.5 percent.
That climate of financial repression means the path of high liquidity and record corporate profits coupled with slow economic growth is likely to continue, with the only question being how long.
But, as Hartnett pointed out, that's the exact formula that has fed "a ferocious bull market in financial assets."
(Read more: So-so summer: Job growth disappoints; rate drops)
Optimistically, he expects "a moment of truth" in the second half of the year to determine exactly how the dichotomy between Main Street and Wall Street plays out.
If ever the U.S. were finally to achieve "escape velocity" it must be now. Significant monetary stimulus, the end of fiscal austerity, a booming housing market, a cheap dollar, and record corporate cash balances mean the US economy should meaningfully accelerate in coming quarters.
—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him