Some economists and market analysts have been predicting a U.S. recession ever since last fall. They’ve been wrong before – but they’ve also been right. Rather than try to predict how the stock market will react during the next recession, investors are better off planning for a range of potential outcomes. This will help reduce the risk of losses regardless of whether or not the United States experiences a recession in 2023.
Bear in mind that stock and bond markets are forward-looking, and typically priced to take into account economic conditions such as higher interest rates, inflation and commodity prices. In response to whatever factors are in hand, the market adjusts in ways to try to keep returns on par with historical norms and practices.
In its market perspective for 2023, Merrill Lynch suggested that the economic cycle would bottom out, market returns would begin turning a corner, and investors who hold diversified portfolios would see less volatility and be positioned to fully participate in a renewed bull market.
There are several strategies you can implement to help mitigate the impact of an impending recession. Be aware, too, that these strategies are sound all-weather moves designed to help reduce your risk and maximize returns over the long term, regardless of economic and market conditions.
Diversify Your Portfolio
The recent failure of established regional banks is a reminder that there are no “safe” stocks – all stock market investing is subject to a wide range of risks. However, investors should be most wary of owning a high concentration in any single stock. After all, while it is unlikely the stock market will ever be reduced to zero, it is entirely possible for an individual stock to lose total value. This can happen due to a fall in demand, bankruptcy, corruption/embezzlement, a natural disaster or a public relations scandal. There are many situations that are unforeseen and out of an investor’s control that can lead to substantial losses.
By diversifying your portfolio across a large number of stocks, even those within the same industry (such as competing banks), you can mitigate exposure to a single stock that experiences a major decline in performance. For 2023, Merrill Lynch recommended a broad global stock portfolio with a slight overweight in U.S. equities, including large cap value stocks and a mixture of small-cap growth and value stocks. It contends that the Energy, Financials, Healthcare, Utilities and Real Estate sectors offer stable returns via strong cash flow and attractive valuations.
Well-established dividend stocks pay out steady income as well as offer growth opportunity, which is a good hedge for a strong long-term total return regardless of economic conditions.
Merrill Lynch also favors global fixed income securities, including investment-grade corporates, 10-year Treasury bonds and longer-maturity municipal bonds.
An easy way to diversify across a wide range of stocks and/or bonds is to invest in asset category-specific mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. The immense universe of funds offers a broad range of stocks (e.g., growth, value, large-, medium- and small-cap) and bond (high yield, high quality, government, corporate) fund options. A balanced fund offers a combination of both stock and bond securities to help capture growth as well as capital preservation.
If you invest regularly through a 401(k) plan at work or defer income to an IRA, note that your money will purchase more shares when prices drop, which is often the case during a recession. As long as you have vetted and have faith in your investment choices, this discounted buying opportunity can set up your portfolio for stronger gains once the market recovers.
It is always a good idea – even more so during a recession – to hold an allocation in cash or cash-equivalent vehicles such as CDs and money market funds. However, it is not a good idea to sell stocks that have lost ground just to beef up your cash allocation. It may be better to sell a stock with significant appreciation instead, especially if it is in an industry that does not tend to perform well during a recession (e.g., Construction, Manufacturing, Retail, Leisure and Hospitality).