Here we go again. Suddenly, people are fleeing the stock market for the safety of muni’s and other low risk investments. The U.S. dollar is strong only because of the weakness of the Euro and other foreign currencies supported by extraordinary deficits. Emerging markets such as China, India and Singapore are the only ones growing and even China’s forecasts are cooling. Some economists are calling all of this a dreaded double dip. Is this spasm an overreaction?
I am not here to offer a prediction as much as some perspective. Historically, there have been two elements that have preceded U.S. recessions. Typically, there has been a scandal such as the Savings and Loan Crisis, Michael Milken, Enron/Worldcom, and most recently the liquidity crises triggered by the likes of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Bros, and Bear Stearns, where someone has manipulated a market (most recently derivatives and credit default swaps). Secondly, the recession usually follows a bubble (dot.com, real estate, etc). In other words, our economy gets fat and happy, investors take advantage, and then the bubble bursts.
We certainly have not seen our economy swell over the last 12 months. People have been so desperate for good news that we accepted what little there was as signs of a recovery. The reality is that our economy grows at about 5% in times of prosperity, and 2% in times of stagnation. Three percent swings us from optimism to pessimism, which reinforces the magnitude of emotions in our decision making. Fear is always the most powerful emotion and motivator, greater than love and all the others.
So how will the next few months play out? I don’t have a concrete answer for that but what I do know is that our reaction to the sound bites from economists and experts is quite personal. Our practice is thriving at the moment (in part due to the acceptance of the book) which is proof positive that the performance of an organization can be driven in part by one’s confidence and sheer will. Certainly, market forces are in play and in some businesses (like construction) you can still hear the giant sucking sound. In others the business can best be described as mediocre and the entrepreneur must decide how much investment (in sales and marketing for example) is appropriate. What I have seen from manufacturing clients is that are petrified of expanding their factories out of fear that they will not be able to dial back capacity.
In a universe where most are passive, there is more opportunity for the aggressors. I read of one recent investor who bought BP and shorted Apple, a counter strategy that clearly made him a lot of money. While I am not dispensing any investment advice, I am suggesting that we all must make individual choices on the level of risk we are willing to accept. In an age when things are uncertain, there is as much evidence that we will continue along a modest recovery path as there is that the bottom will fall out, and I have made the choice to stay on course. If you are not comfortable with the status quo, it may be time to find new product, services, channels or sectors because there does not appear to be a hockey stick coming any time soon.