Recession. The fear is everywhere. Even a team of economists from the New York Fed now rate the odds of current interest rate policy leading to a “hard landing” at something north of 80%.
On the surface, that looks like a doomsday forecast. And yet stocks are bouncing today. Who’s buying in the face of doomsday?
Answer: the same people who sold across the last six months, before the Fed had much chance to cool an economy that still shows signs of being too hot to handle. But as always, you need to read the nuances behind the surface headline.
The NY Fed economists define the kind of “recession” they’re talking about very precisely. They’re talking about something like the 1990-1 slowdown, when global GDP contracted a full 1.4% across an eight-month period.
And they’re looking out across the next 10 fiscal quarters. If they see the economy shrink that much at any point between now and the end of 2024, they’ll call it a hard landing.
That’s a long time to stay out of the market, even if you’re terrified of what a speed bump of that scale will do to your stocks in the short term.
Who remembers the 1990 recession now? Stocks dropped like a rock . . . at the bottom, investors who bought the top would be down a significant 15% four months later. In another three months, their paper losses had healed and it was time to get back to work.
Provided they had the patience, all they really lost in the long term was a little momentum. Those seven months of stall aren’t even a blip on the statistics.
Neither was the 2008 crash. Before Lehman Brothers imploded, large-cap stock earned about 8% a year better than inflation. That was still true in the Great Recession that followed . . . and it’s true now. At worst, the averages wobbled a tenth of a point in any given year.
And remember, you never have to buy the averages. A recession makes it tough on a lot of companies, but there will be pockets of relative strength.
After all, there are always pockets of relative weakness, even in a boom. Who wanted to buy cruise stocks after the pandemic lockdowns? Almost nobody . . . until it became clear that those companies were priced for an extinction event that wasn’t coming.
Today there are already stocks that have the fundamentals of a recession. It’s a recession for them and their shareholders. Amazon (AMZN) is on the list.
Who wants to pay a growth premium for a company that’s shrinking? That’s why a lot of investors won’t even bother to stay in the market in a recession. And that’s where AMZN is today.
You can’t hide on the sidelines for years at a time. We only get so much time in our lives in the market. Why waste it?