Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 305

Recession and why timing markets doesn't pay

When do we know for certain that we are on a path toward recession and that what we are experiencing is not simply a reversion to trend? How can investors prepare? Those questions captured the minds and emotions of investors and pundits alike through the first quarter of 2019.

While some of the global economic data released in Q1 was disappointing, we are not put off. The theme of Vanguard’s 2019 outlook was ‘down, but not out’ as we anticipated some deterioration in economic growth indicators. Holding that view is easier said than done when consumption, income, housing, and manufacturing indicators in several nations signal weakness. Almost in spite of the uncertainty, however, share markets in Australia and overseas returned over 10% for the first quarter.

The yield curve and central banks

It was hard – even for the most steadfast of investors – to ignore the debate around the economic cycle once the US Treasury yield curve briefly inverted in the final weeks of March 2019. When short-term interest rates are higher than long term rates, investors become pessimistic about what could happen in the next year, yet optimistic when looking five to ten years into the future. Traditionally, this pattern has preceded every major US recession in recent memory, so quite understandably, investors are taking these warning signs seriously.

Central banks only added to the feeling that economic storm clouds are gathering. Ironically, their actions might have been intended to instill confidence in their respective economies, but markets, especially bond markets, had none of it. The US Federal Reserve revised its vaunted ‘dot plot’ to suggest that interest rates would be on hold for the rest of the year; they had previously signalled two more hikes. Locally, the Reserve Bank of Australia became more tentative in its official policy communications. Even the Reserve Bank of New Zealand changed its tune and openly discussed the possibility of a rate cut.

Investors are now asking; “What do the banks know that we don’t?”

Economic and market outlook

This questioning comes at a precarious time for the global economy, as we recently passed the 10-year mark from the onset of the Global Financial Crisis. Those who say the US economic expansion must end soon, simply because the expansion has been remarkably long, overlook Australia’s record-setting recession-free expansion in their review of the global economy. Investors feel that we are close to crossing a line, albeit a blurry one, between economic growth reverting to trend (2% in the US, 2–3% in Australia) and an outright global slowdown.

Part of this concern is driven from a tightening of financial conditions. According to our analysis, financial conditions and heightened anxiety over economic policy probably contributed to some of the decline in US GDP growth for the last quarter of 2018. In a recent research note, Known unknowns: Uncertainty, volatility, and the odds of recession, we estimated that these shocks could have subtracted as much as 0.4% from 2019 GDP growth.

Inevitably, with each new development in this cycle, we are asked by investors what they can do to prepare. Regular readers of Vanguard’s commentary will not be surprised by our answer: revisit asset allocation, diversify, and review active risks in your portfolio.

Market timing does not pay

Attempting to time markets can backfire and lead to long term underperformance, as our analysis shows in the figure and table below. The questions investors ought to be asking are: ‘If a recession occurs, how should I respond?’, ‘Am I adequately prepared?’ and, ‘Does my financial plan reflect my comfort with uncertainty?’ rather than ‘When will the next recession occur?’

Adequate preparation, whether increased savings, a new asset allocation, or even a conversation between an adviser and their client, is the best way to prepare. The market will take us for a ride as it tries to guess (with limited success) what will happen in 2019. If we stay calm and adhere to a long-term approach, we limit the effect of the market’s fits and tantrums on our journey toward investment success.

Matthew Tufano is an Economist at Vanguard Australia, a sponsor of Cuffelinks. This article is for general information purposes only and does not consider the circumstances of any individual.

For more articles and papers from Vanguard Investments Australia, please click here.

RELATED ARTICLES

From macro to micro: end-of-cycle investing

What does the shape of the yield curve tell us?

Investors need to allow for future cycles

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Responses to the 'OK Boomer' poll

While every generation has its unique opportunities, the majority of Firstlinks readers agree that Boomers have had a better run than others. But the real highlights here are in the comments.

How to make money at the end of a bull market

It's been a strong year for the stockmarket, and a good decade since the end of the GFC. However, there are signs the bull will stop running soon, and portfolios should be positioned in advance.

Robert Merton on retirement incomes and Jane Austen

1997 Nobel Laureate Robert Merton wants greater focus on the income that will sustain a retirement, and even Jane Austen understood this. And he has a surprising proposal to help with longevity risk.

Nest and nest egg: 23 aspects of housing and ageing

The family home is the biggest asset of most Australians across all age groups, and its role as both a place to live and an investment makes home ownership the biggest retirement policy issue.

Uncharted waters, 2020 and beyond

As we approach the 2020s, we are sailing into uncertain waters at best. These times also have some historical precedents, but we need to make important reforms before our luck runs out.

Peter Meany on global trends in infrastructure assets

A global portfolio of infrastructure assets allows trends in one part of the world to be recognised early in another, while companies with pricing power and high barriers to entry enjoy extra resilience.  

Latest Updates

Sorry, there’s no real place to hide

Billions of dollars of personal savings are flowing into 'fixed interest' funds, but do investors understand the risks? These funds have a place but they are not a short-term haven for worried retirees.

Investment strategies

20 favourite investment and life lesson quotes

Favourite quotations from famous people on markets, investing, processes, noise, pessimism, self perception and life balance. These lessons carry across investment cycles and lifetimes.   

Financial planning

We need national and personal visions for retirement

Two different articles cover a recent report on the attitudes of Australians towards retirement. What should be a enjoyable life stage is feared by many, and they fail to plan and work towards it.

Shares

Beware: the share valuations failing the commonsense test

The valuation maths of many expensive companies simply cannot work. They assume low interest rates for long terms, but strong economic growth to drive ongoing success. You can't have both. 

SMSF strategies

SMSFs the new battleground in family disputes

With the best will in the world, family disputes often occur on the death of a family member. SMSFs often hold substantial assets, and the role of trustees and death benefit nominations is tricky.  

Sponsors

Alliances

Special eBooks

Specially-selected collections of the best articles 

Read more

Pandora Archive

Firstlinks articles are collected in Pandora, Australia's national archive.

Read more