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It was a stormy month in the stock market, but the sun eventually came out and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied more than 2,300+ points before eking out a small gain (up +0.04%) and the S&P 500 index also posted an incremental increase (+0.005%). But there are clouds on the horizon. Although the economy is currently very strong (i.e., record corporate profits and a generationally low unemployment rate of 3.6% – see chart below), some forecasters are predicting a recession during 2023 as a result of the Federal Reserve pumping the brakes on the economy by increasing interest rates, in addition to elevated inflation, supply chain disruptions, COVID lockdowns in China, and a war between Russia and Ukraine.
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE (1997 – 2022)
But like weather forecasters, economists are perpetually unreliable. While some doomsday-er economists are expecting a deeply destructive hurricane (deep recession), others are only seeing a mild drizzle (soft landing) developing. The truth is, nobody knows for certain at this point, but what we do know is that the correction in stock prices this year (-13% now and -20% two weeks ago) has already significantly discounted (factored in) a mild recession. In other words, even if a mild recession were to occur in the coming months or quarters, there may be very little reaction or negative consequences for investors. Similarly, if inflation begins to be peaking as it appears to be doing (see chart below), and the Fed can orchestrate a soft landing (i.e., raise interest rates and reduce balance sheet debt without crippling the economy), then substantial rewards could accrue to stock market investors. On the flip side, if the economy were to go into a deep recession, history would suggest this stormy forecast might result in another -10% to -15% of chilliness.
INFLATION RATE (%)
Due to trillions of dollars in increased stimulus spending and Federal Reserve Quantitative Easing (bond buying), we experienced an explosion in the government deficit and surge in money supply growth (i.e., the root cause for swelling inflation). Arguably, some or all of these accommodations were useful in surviving through the worst parts of the COVID pandemic, however, we are paying the price now in sky-high food costs, explosive gasoline prices, and expanding credit card bills. The good news is the deficit is plummeting (see chart below) due to a reduction in spending (due in part to no Build Back Better infrastructure spending legislation) and soaring income tax receipts from a strengthening economy and capital gains in the stock market.
MONEY SUPPLY GROWTH% (M2) VS. GOVERNMENT DEFICIT
Source:Calafia Beach Pundit
For many investors, getting used to large multi-year gains has been very comfortable, but interpreting downward gyrations in the stock market can be very confusing and counterintuitive. In short, attempting to decipher the reasons behind the short-term zigs and zags of the market is a fool’s errand. Not many people predicted a +48% gain in the stock market during a global pandemic (2020-2021), just like not many people predicted a short-lived -20% reduction in the stock market during 2022 as we witnessed record-high corporate profits and unemployment rates hovering near generational lows (3.6%).
Stock market veterans understand that stock prices can go down when current economic news is sunny but future expectations are too high. Experienced investors also understand stock prices can go up when the current economic news may be getting too cloudy but future expectations are too low.
Apparently, the world’s greatest investor of all-time thinks that all this gloomy recession talk is creating lots of stock market bargains, which explains why Buffett has invested $51 billion of his cash at Berkshire Hathaway as the stock market has gotten a lot more inexpensive this year. So, while the economy will likely face a number of headwinds going into 2023, it doesn’t mean a hurricane is coming and you need to hide in a bunker. If you pull out your umbrella and rain gear, just like smart investors do during all previous challenging economic cycles, the drizzle from the storm clouds will eventually pass and blue skies shall reappear.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in BRK.B/A or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.