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Surviving A Recession

Dec 28, 2007
When the major stock market averages declined by 10% from their 2007 highs on Monday, we were in official market correction. Sentiment is negative owing to the economic back drop of, at best, tepid growth according to the Fed, or a recession.

Consumers twenty-five credit binge fueled by home equity loans, credit cards arriving in the mail, sub prime and adjustable rate mortgages and automobile leases, appears to be over. Savings rates has plummeted from 14% to 0% (perhaps to a negative number if home values continue to decline). Pile on top of that the banks debt problems, high energy prices, the homebuilding industry's woes, weak retail sales and declining consumer sentiment, it's no wonder that many investors believe a recession is in the offing.

Investors face two challenges right now. If the economy is headed into a recession, where do I put my money? And, if the economy avoids a recession will I be in the right investments? The stock market anticipates the future. It will decline prior to the US entering a recession and it will start going up prior to the end of the recession.

Investors who wait for certainty that a recession has begun will be selling stocks at the worst possible time. The same logic holds true if you wait to buy stocks until after the economic recovery, the market will have already moved higher in anticipation. Human psychology is a future complication. We're most optimistic about the stock market when it's roaring ahead and most inclined to buy; and most pessimistic and most inclined to sell, when it's at its bottom. Of course, our investment strategy should be just the opposite. The moral to this story is that you should invest for the long term and not try to time the market.

If a recession is imminent, the stock market will decline by another 10%. How do you make money? To get technical, buy mutual funds, ETFs and stocks with negative betas or high alphas, such as gold, commodities, real estate and foreign stocks.

Gold and commodities already have had good runs, the US commercial real estate market appears to be weakening and foreign economies are increasingly becoming intertwined with ours. Non-investment grade bonds have good yields but are not the place to be given the continuing bank credit problems. High grade bonds and Treasures have relatively unattractive yields, particularly as you go out in maturity.

The best performing stocks in a recession are likely to be industry leaders, companies with strong overseas sales, consumer staples and health care. The technology sector is solid and internationally focused, so we'll add it to our list. Essentially we're looking at companies whose sales will be strong during a recession. These stocks may not go up in price during a recession but they will perform relatively better than most other equities and are safe investments. The bottom line is it's hard to make money during a recession.

If the Fed is right and we'll see modest economic growth in 2008, the markets are at their lows and could move 20% higher over the next six months. How do you position your investments for this possibility? By staying in the market and buying the same mutual funds, ETFs and stocks as you did for your recession portfolio. The recession portfolio is a conservative portfolio. Although it will miss some of the dramatic gains made by small cap and more violate stocks, it also protects you from the downside of those stocks while enabling you to participate in any stock market rally.

What to do now? Review your long term goals and make sure you've got the right asset mix, take losses (up to $3,000 more than your gains, remembering to match short term gains and losses) to minimize your taxes, reposition your equity investments according to our recession scenario, move your bonds into cash and tighten your seatbelt. We're in for a bumpy ride.
About the Author
Bill Byrnes is co-founder of MUTUALdecision, mutual fund rating , providing investors with data on the top mutual funds, and author of the MUTUALdecision Blog. He's been CEO, chairman and served on the board of directors of several public and private companies. He holds MBA and JD degrees and is a Chartered Financial Analyst with over 30 years experience in the investment industry.
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