What to Expect and How to Prepare for a Recession

Economists generally determine that the country has fallen into a recession after two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Since 1967, the United States has experienced seven recessions.

The thing is, predicting a recession is a little like predicting a tornado. Experts are never exactly sure if or when one will occur, but they can cite when conditions a ripe for one based past experience. The good news for predictors is that the economy follows a similar pattern of indicators in the months leading up to a recession.

The bad news is that many those indicators have recently emerged. For example:

  • Inverted Yield Curve – This is when the yield on longer-term Treasury bonds is lower than the yield on shorter-term Treasury bonds, which happened recently for the first time since 2007. On average, an inverted yield curve has occurred 14 months in advance of every recession in the past 50 years.
  • Corporate Profits – Estimates for corporate earnings growth have dropped substantially since last year, from 7.6 percent to 2.3 percent.
  • Global Trade – The ongoing U.S. trade war with China has resulted in weakness in the manufacturing and farming industries. Moreover, global trade volume is also down, which further reduces the market for U.S.-manufactured goods.

What to Expect in a Recession

The worst recession in U.S. history was the most recent one, between 2007 and 2009. Dubbed the Great Recession, it was short (compared to the Great Depression of 1929-1939) but it took a powerful toll on a large chunk of the population. For example, close to half of U.S. households lost at least 25 percent of their net worth; one out of every four households lost at least 75 percent of their net worth.

About one-third of households experienced one or more of the following:

  • Fell more than two months behind on their mortgage
  • Had their home foreclosed
  • Had their home equity drop into negative territory
  • Lost a job

That was a bad recession. Fortunately, while economists are seeing signs of another one on the horizon, as of now (absent any significant shocks) they do not expect it to be as severe.

Tips to Prepare for a Recession

With multiple warning signs evident, it appears we do have some time before a recession potentially hits. It’s a good idea to use this time to protect your financial situation to help minimize any impact that a recession can have on you personally. The following are some tips to consider.

Shore Up Your Finances

Start by reducing your debt as much as possible, particularly any accounts exposed to a variable interest rate. The interest on credit cards and home equity lines of credit have a habit of increasing when you can least afford it. If you have a variable rate mortgage you might want to refinance at today’s low fixed mortgage rates so your monthly payments do not increase. One way to generate a robust savings fund is to temporarily suspend contributions to a retirement plan and save that money in a readily available account.

Minimize Household Expenses

Most people have to cut back on household expenses during a recession, so you might as well start now to help you prepare. For example, consider trading in a gas-guzzling car for one with better gas mileage and lower monthly payments, or pull the plug on cable TV and switch to a streaming service. Deploying these cost-reduction strategies now not only reduces your expenses during a recession but will also help contribute to your savings fund.

In many areas of the country, real estate prices are at the top of the market. It might be worth considering selling your house now while you can get a good price. This will give you a pot of cash to sit on during the recession, which is especially helpful if you lose your job. In fact, after the sale you may consider renting until real estate prices drop and you can purchase another home at a good price – and maintain a healthy cache of savings. This strategy could also save you from raiding your investment portfolio for money – helping protect your future financial security.

Protect Your Investment Portfolio

Take a good look at your portfolio and give it a recession stress test. Consider reallocating some funds to options that tend to perform reliably during an economic decline, such as:

  • Government bonds
  • Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)
  • Corporate Inflation-Protected Securities (CIPS)
  • Consumer staples stocks
  • Well-established dividend stocks
  • Fixed Income Annuity (FIA)

Recognize that it is generally not a good idea to completely cash out of the market. The best way to accumulate wealth over time is to stay invested regardless of temporary economic declines. In fact, investors who maintained their market positions between 2007 and 2017 experienced an average 240 percent growth rate.

Once the recession has ended, think about rebalancing your portfolio to realign its strategic asset allocation with your investment objectives and timeline. This allows you to cash in on outperforming assets and buy into depressed securities that could be poised for post-recession growth.

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