On tap for next year: Legit economic growth?
The stock market soared in 2013. And some argue that the 28 percent rally in S&P 500 presages good things for the American economy in 2014.
In a recent note, Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg forcefully made the case that history is simply on the side of growth in 2014.
"Going back six decades, what I can assure you is that in the year following a year in which the S&P 500 rose 20 percent or more, real GDP growth was always positive. Never one contraction," Rosenberg wrote. "In fact, the worst year was around 2 percent the subsequent year, which is not so far off the current consensus for 2014. So based on past performance, consider that the worst we can do."
Rosenberg, who until recently was well-known for his bearish stance, goes on to predict even stronger growth than that.
Looking at real GDP growth in years following those in which the S&P rose 20 percent or more, "the maximum was 5.4 percent. The average and median were both 3.8 percent. The mode was closer to 4.5 percent. So expect any surprise in 2014 to be to the upside," remarks Rosenberg (no relation to the writer).
(Read more: Is this economic momentum for real?)
Still, not everyone is convinced that the relationship between the market and the economy is quite so clear-cut.
"The stock market has often not been an indicator of where the economy is," argued former hedge fund manager Mark Dow, who writes at the Behavioral Macro Blog. The direction of stocks is often determined by "the psychology of crowds, and the extent to which people are underinvested or overinvested. So we think we're looking at the economy, but that's not really the case."
Some go further, and argue that the Federal Reserve's dovish policies have contributed so much to the stock market as to make it a poor indicator as to the direction of the real economy.
"I'm not going to say that we can't have growth next year," said Brent Johnson, a portfolio manager at Santiago Capital, told CNBC.com. "But I think it's all because of the stimulus the Fed is pumping into the market."
Money manager Bob Gelfond strikes a middle ground between a belief in growth and Fed-fueled cynicism.
"While I do think there will be growth next year, there's no doubt the Fed continues to have a large influence on asset prices that is likely to continue for some time," Gelfond, the CEO of MQS Management, wrote to CNBC.com. "A lot of the rise in the S&P this year is due to that, although there certainly has been some profit growth that will also probably continue."
When traders look at recent indicators, they certainly see signs of economic strength. GDP grew at a 4.1 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, and unemployment has fallen to 7.0 percent.
"It just feels like the mid-to-late '90s again," said Brian Stutland of the Stutland Volatility Group. "You look up, and the market's up every day, and the economy's actually doing well. There have been so many negative people out there, but I think the economy's going to stealthfully crawl up on people."
Stutland, then, agrees with Rosenberg's analysis.
"There is something to the fact that the stock market's up so much," he said. "I think it does hold true to predict that the economy will actually grow strongly."