Since the start of 2016, investor sentiment has led to a shoot now, ask questions later mentality. In the court of economic justice, all stocks have been convicted guilty of recession despite the evidence and defense that proves the economy innocent. Even the Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen did not prove to be a great public defender of the economy with her comments that negative interest rates are on the table.
With large cap stocks down -13% and small cap stocks losing -25% from 2015, there are a mixture of indicators suggesting a looming recession could be coming. For example, banking stocks, the beating heart of the U.S. economy, saw prices collapse almost -30% from the 2015 highs this week. As CNBC pointed out, “American Airlines (AAL), United Continental (UAL), General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) all sell for five times 2016 earnings” – about a 70% discount to the average S&P 500 stock. As a group, these economically sensitive cyclical stocks grew earnings per share greater than 50% while their stock prices are down by more than -30% from their 52-week highs. In general, the cyclicals are serving jail time, even though growth has been gangbusters and the current valuations massively discounted.
On the flip side, defensive stocks with little-to-no revenue growth like “Campbell Soup (CPB) trade at 20 times earnings, Kimberly-Clark (KMB) is at 21 times earnings, Procter & Gamble (PG) is at 22 times earnings and Clorox (CLX) is at 25 times earnings. All of these stocks are near 52-week highs.”
Confused? Well, if we are indeed going into recession, than this valuation dichotomy between cyclicals and staples makes sense. Stocks can be a leading indicator (i.e., predictor) of future recessions, but as the famed Nobel Prize winner in economics Paul Samuelson noted, “The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions.”
On the other hand, if this current correction is a false recession scare, then now would be a tremendous buying opportunity. In fact, over the last five years, there have been plenty of tremendous buying opportunities for those courageous long-term investors willing to put capital to work during these panic periods (see also Groundhog Day All Over Again):
- 2011: Debt Downgrade/Debt Ceiling Debate/European PIIGS Crisis (-22% correction)
- 2012:Arab Spring/Greek “Gr-Exit” Fears (-11% correction)
- 2013: Fed Taper Tantrum (-8% correction)
- 2014: Ebola Outbreak (-10% correction)
- 2015: China Slowdown Fears (-13% correction in August)
- 2016 (1st Six Weeks): Strong Dollar, Collapsing Oil, interest Rate Hikes/Negative Rates, Weakening China (-15% correction)
- 2016 (Next 46 Weeks): ????
Today’s threats rearing their ugly heads have definite recession credibility, but if you think about the strong dollar, collapsing oil prices, Fed monetary policies, weakening Chinese economy, and negative global interest rates, all of these threats existed well before stock prices nose-dived during the last six weeks. If the economic court is judging the current data for potential recession evidence, making a case and proving the economy guilty is challenging. It’s tough to find a recession when we witness a low unemployment rate (4.9%); record corporate profits (ex-energy); record car sales (17.5 million); an improving housing market; a positively sloped yield curve; healthy banking and consumer balance sheets; sub-$2/gallon gasoline; and a flattening U.S. dollar, among other factors.
Could stock prices be clairvoyantly predicting Armageddon? Sure, anything is possible…but this scenario is unlikely now. Even if the U.S. economy is headed towards a recession, the -20% plunge in stock prices is already factoring in most, if not all, of a mild-to-moderate recession. If the economic data does actually get worse, there is still room for stock prices to go down. Under a recession scenario, the tremendous buying opportunities will only get better. While weak hands may be shooting (selling) first and asking questions later, now is the time for you to use patience and discipline. These characteristics will serve as bullet proof vest for your investment portfolio and lead to economic justice over the long-term.