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The Covid recession has come and gone over two lifespans of the house fly, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) just declared. Its wake, of course, will be felt much longer than the official two-month recession.
According to the NBER, a consortium of economists, the economy hit its pre-recession peak in February 2020 before hitting a low in April as the new coronavirus spread across the world and national governments enacted regulations. social distancing rules and regulations. It then started to recover in May, making it the shortest recession in recorded history.
However, the economy is still badly affected by these dramatic months last year. The United States is scrutinizing the consequences of the steps it took to avert a catastrophe: The Federal Reserve stepped in to save the bond market, and the federal government has spent trillions of dollars to keep American households at bay. afloat while their economy was blocked. While this may have avoided serious damage to the economic system, we now worry about inflation rather than depression.
Given that the past 18 months have not turned out as many expected, it is likely that the next 18 months will not turn out either. Therefore, it is worth reflecting on what we have learned during this remarkable time and how we can use these lessons to improve our personal finances in the future.
Expect the feds to act
If there was a time for the federal government to be too weak to respond to a crisis, it was the first months of 2020.
Political Airways were on Twitter with a host of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, each doing whatever they could to stand out. Part of that was to differentiate as much as possible from then-President Donald Trump, who had just been impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives. Republicans, however, controlled the Senate and were in no mood to compromise with the other chamber.
Yet even a dysfunctional political class has proven it can act quickly.
Just four days after the stock market ended a 34% month-over-month decline from its February 19, 2020 highs, Trump signed a $ 2.2 trillion relief plan that even a divided Congress quickly approved. .
Aided by thousands of direct stimulus checks, an increase in unemployment benefits and a myriad of business loans, investors breathed a sigh of relief and the S&P 500 finally returned over 16% last year, or nearly 65% from its March low.
Investors who held onto their long-term plans were able to reap the rewards.
“It’s important to stay disciplined and emotionally disengage as much as possible,” says David McInnis, principal at East Paces Group, an investment management firm. “We have tried to keep our clients calm so that they don’t make decisions based on short-term circumstances, but on what they need in 10, 20, 30 years.”
Not all recessions are the same
Part of the reason the air was so filled with fear when the recession began was the fresh memory of the Great Recession that lingered in everyone’s collective consciousness. Despite a huge stimulus package and unprecedented Fed actions, the economy spent most of the 2010s slowly recovering from the consequences of the financial crisis. Home prices have stagnated, employment gains have been slow, and it has even taken years for stocks to fully recover.
Not so now.
Not only have stocks rebounded faster than Jason Voorhees during this recession, other asset classes have turned bananas.
Take most Americans’ most important asset: their home. Median home prices fell from $ 257,400 in the first quarter of 2007 to $ 208,400 two years later, according to the US Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. House prices would not reach their pre-housing crisis level until 2013.
This tour was very different. Home prices fell from nearly $ 330,000 at the start of 2020 to $ 347,500 a year later. Many of those who stayed in their homes were able to refinance their mortgages or use their new equity to accelerate their home improvement plans.
Meanwhile, a whole new class of investors have emerged through investment apps, such as Robinhood, and many of them had bright eyes on the speculative wealth driven by soaring crypto valuations. currencies and actions called memes.
Even when Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations peaked in early January, more daytraders were cramming into GameStop and Bitcoin. While a few may have made money in these trades, many more have heartache endured because prices have fallen in recent months.
All of this to say that if you are investing as most financial advisers recommend, i.e. in a diversified portfolio of low cost indices and exchange traded funds (ETFs), you should not let yourself be discouraged by times like these. Just as you stick to your guns when times are volatile, you need to keep faith that your wallet will remain steady, even as sparkling feelings emanate from all corners.
Keep looking to the future
Markets are amazing information processing systems, and it’s hard to predict how they will react, at least in the short term.
There was a lot of optimism after President Joe Biden’s victory and the consolidation of Democratic power earlier this year. Biden promised a new stimulus package, more spending on infrastructure, and a host of social policies that would pump even more money into the economy. The vaccines were approved and people across the country began to get bitten. Governors have opened up their economies, and businesses around the world say their biggest problem is finding good people to hire.
The country is in a much better position on Covid than it was a year ago, but investors have become nervous in recent weeks as the Delta variant has dramatically increased the number of cases while the simultaneous vaccination rates stagnate. Despite all the progress made, this made investors nervous.
This should of course not cause you to change your plans. But it serves as a warning that events and narratives can pivot quickly. While people were largely optimistic a month ago, more worried that the lockdowns are in store and life will not return fully to normal quickly as they hoped.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that you shouldn’t be surprised when the rug gets under you and everything seems upside down. On the contrary, perhaps the best way for you and your wallet to get through times like these is to have confidence that over time everything will be fine with the world.