US Economic Recession History
The old saying “History doesn’t always repeat itself, but often rhymes”, is based more on fact than fiction. By studying the US Economic Recession History, you should better understand how current recessions may affect your financial life today.
I focus on recessions simply because they have a dramatic effect on 401k balances and investments in general. During the last recession, which was officially from March of 2001 through November 2001, the major market indexes plummeted. The Nasdaq Index declined over 70% from it’s high within a year surrounding the recession. This index still hasn’t recovered. It is still only half of where it once was.
Could you have avoided this downfall by studying the US Economic Recession History? Maybe, but maybe not. Let’s look at the problem. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the official agency that determines when recessions begin and end in history. Since recessions have such a detrimental effect on our investments, wouldn’t it be nice if they would notify us when one is beginning? Yes it would, but they don’t. The Nasdaq Index lost over 43% from its high before the NBER determined we were in our last recession. It took them 9 months after the beginning of the recession to announce it had begun. Is this a fluke? Unfortunately not. The official notification of the beginning of the last 4 recessions came an average of 228 days after they had already begun. This is an 8 month delay.
The way numbers work, if you lose 50% of your portfolio, you must earn 100% just to break even. If you had $100,000 and lost 50% ($50,000), you are left with $50,000. You must double this (100%) in order to break even. This is why it seems to be twice as hard to regain money after losing it. It took the Dow Industrial Index and S&P 500 Index around 6 years to get back to even after the last recession.
Let’s pretend you’ve lost 43% of your portfolio and are determined NOT to lose any more. You sell your stock funds and put your account into the safety of the money market. Your account is now safe for the rest of the recession. Will knowing the US Economic Recession History help you determine when the recession is over? Once the recession is over, you definitely want to move back into stocks so that you don’t miss the next increase in the market. After all, you need to make almost 100% just to break even!
NBER announced the last recession was over on July 17, 2003. Unfortunately they announced it was over in November of 2001! Yes they didn’t determine the last recession was over until nearly 2 years later. Had you had your investments strapped down for the winter winds of recession, you could have missed the excellent recovery period that typically follow recessions. The end of the last 4 recessions were officially announced an average of 522 days (17 months) after they were over.
Studying the US Economic Recession History may be helpful for some, but I don’t find it very helpful in managing investment portfolios. I find that tracking Supply vs. Demand in the investment markets is a much better way to protect assets. When supply begins to outweigh demand, simply change the portfolio to a more conservative stance. This usually happens near the beginning of recessions and you have plenty of time to switch your portfolio to safety. The opposite occurs near the end of recessions. Demand shows back up and you begin to change the portfolio to one of moderate risk.
The upside to recessions is the fact that periods of expansion last about 5 times longer than recessionary periods. There were 10 Recessionary cycles since 1945. The recession side of these cycles lasted on average 10 months. The expansion side lasted on average 57 months. If you can protect your money during the 10 recessionary months you won’t have to spend a lot of the expansion months trying to get back to even. You can instead be exploring new highs for the portfolio.
Posted in Economic Recession
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