This Recession’s One Shining Light

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It’s official. We’re in recession. We’ve got problems. Home prices are falling, and many are expecting them to fall further. People and businesses of all sizes are still struggling to access credit. Banks are still reluctant to loan money to all but the most credit-worthy of people and businesses.

It’s looking like we’re heading into a long and deep recession. Interest rates may end up being cut to 0%, but even that won’t be an instant and miraculous cure to our economic woes. Sadly, 0% doesn’t mean free money for all!

My guess is that the recession will last most of 2009. We are globally embarking on the greatest de-leveraging process many of us have ever seen, and might ever see. Forget the dot-com recession of the early 2000s. This is much worse.

And it’s not over yet. Highly indebted individuals will likely be paying back their debts for years or even decades to come. The stock market will have to virtually double just to get back to where it was at the beginning of this year. Unemployment will keep rising. Right now, from just about every angle you look at it, the future is gloomy.

Bad news abounds
I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the market had a couple more serious downward lurches before Christmas. The news is all bad, and likely to remain that way for some time. I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but I think I’m being realistic.

For example, retailers like The Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) and J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) will continue to struggle. Even Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) shares have taken a hit, despite solid operating performance. The share prices of banks like JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , and even the more conservative yet ridiculously named The Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE: BK  ) , could still go either way. The same goes for oil majors like Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) and Conoco Phillips (NYSE: COP  ) , let alone the small oil and gas exploration companies.

Taking the fight to the recession
This market will require patience. We’re going through a very difficult economic cycle, and bad news will continue to prevail well into next year. We know that unemployment will rise, but we don’t know how far. We know housing prices will keep falling, but we don’t know how far, or when they will stop. The only thing certain right now is uncertainty.

I can’t predict the future. At least I’m not alone. How many people predicted the current precipitous market plunge and ensuing debilitating recession? But amidst all the doom and gloom, I am confident that the economy and the market will eventually return to some sense of normalcy. Heck, we may even go more than three days without the market gapping up or down 4% or 5%. If only life could be so boring and relatively uneventful.

The recession gives you time to buy
In terms of the market, the good news is that time is on your side. You don’t need to rush in and panic-buy stocks in the expectation of a massive stock market bounce. Sure, we’ll have weeks like we had last week, when the S&P 500 gained a massive 19% from Nov. 20, the most over five days since 1933. But with bad news never far away, and a sense of fear and panic still percolating through the markets, buying opportunities will be around for a while to come.

Of all the bad things about this recession and the economic mess we’re in, the one shining light is that it gives you time to slowly and methodically pick off the inevitable stock market bargains.

The bargains will be around for a while
It also means that sector and individual stock selection is going to be of paramount importance. For example, I’m avoiding the retailing and property sectors, even though some companies look very cheap today. I’m not adding money to the banking sector right now because, amongst other things, I can’t know or assess what may be lurking in their complicated balance sheets.

Technology companies might be worth taking a look at. With oil down at around $50 a barrel, you could have a sniff around some energy companies, preferably the types that are already producing and that have some promising exploration assets. But, depending on the breadth and depth of the global recession, the oil price could still fall further. See what I mean when I say you have time on your side?

Take your time. The bargains will be around for a while yet. The main challenge in this market is not necessarily picking the winners, but avoiding the losers. It won’t be easy, but for those who get it right, the gains should be substantial over the long term.

Fool contributor Bruce Jackson doesn’t have a beneficial interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article. JPMorgan Chase is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Gap is a Motley Fool Inside Value and a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. If you're looking for stock recommendations, try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is strictly for bargain hunters only.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (16)

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  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2008, at 4:32 PM, captainccs wrote:

    Urban Outfitters is struggling? Are you sure? Do you read the news? Here is what AP reported recently, just three weeks ago.

    >>>Sales, inventory control lift Urban Outfitters' 3Q

    By MAE ANDERSON , 11.13.08, 03:17 PM EST

    Apparel retailer Urban Outfitters Inc. said Thursday its third-quarter profit rose 31 percent, helped by sales of accessories, back-to-school purchases and tight inventory control. <<<

    31% increase in the quarterly profit does not sound like struggling to me. Are you sure Urban Outfitters is struggling?

    Denny Schlesinger

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2008, at 5:03 AM, Daretoth wrote:

    A few fools did predict this mess: Dwot, SpecBear, abitarePERFECT, and goldminingXpert....just to name a few. Some of them have been bears for 2-3 years in the housing market just waiting for the bottom to fall out.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2008, at 7:53 AM, paultupelo wrote:

    seriously? you think GAP is struggling? what about J. Crew, Abercrombie and American Eagle? They are struggling, GAP just keeps bouncing back an forth. They've taken control of inventory and are sitting on much less unlike those mentioned above. They are moving merchandise in a major way this holiday season.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2008, at 10:57 AM, Soultravelers3 wrote:

    LOTS of people predicted this downturn. How could it not be?

    We were reading books about how to take advantage of the coming collapse in 2003 and sold our home dream home near Silicon Valley right at peak for our area in 2005.

    We retired early and have been traveling the world as a family since 2006, living large on little and loving it!

    We hoped it would not get as bad as predicted, but so far those early "doom & gloom" folks were right!

    Cash is king in this kind of a market, so you are right, take your time as their probably are many more lows to come. Most likely followed by hyper inflation due to all the printing up of fiat money.

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