In the long-run, earnings are without question the most important drivers of stock market returns.
Dividends, which are a usually financed with earnings, are another big driver of total returns.
In the short-run, however, returns can be effected tremendously by swings in the premium investors are willing to pay for those earnings. This is reflected by an expanding or contracting price-earnings ratio.
In 2013, U.S. stock market returns were driven largely by that expanding price-earnings ratio.
But that was not the case worldwide.
In Morgan Stanley’s new issue of On The Markets, strategists Adam Parker, Graham Secker and Jonathan Garner break down what drove stock market returns in Japan, the U.S., Europe, Asia excluding Japan, and the emerging markets.
As you can see, the story varies greatly.