What happened

Shares of Camping World Holdings (CWH -2.71%) fell 58.4% in March, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence, and are now down nearly 80% since the since the company's 2016 IPO. The company had a number of issues even before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic dominated the headlines, and it is going to be hard for the recreational vehicle retailer to move beyond its problems if the U.S. falls into a recession.

So what

Camping World came into March already under pressure, hit hard by an industrywide slowdown in RV sales made worse by an ill-fated decision to buy the Gander Outdoors brand. The company came into 2020 with a plan to reverse the damage done by the Gander deal and get back on its feet, but the pandemic has put those plans in doubt.

An RV driving along a desert road.

Image source: Getty Images.

In one sense you could make the argument that at a time when people are told to isolate, RVs could have a moment, since they allow families to go on vacation without dealing with crowded airplanes and hotels. But RVs are a big-ticket purchase, and a discretionary one for most buyers, and few consumers are willing to commit to major purchases at a time when the economy is struggling.

The sell-off in Camping World shares continued as the month went on, and it became increasingly clear the U.S. economy was feeling pressure, including record jobless claims late in the month.

Now what

It's too soon to say how long the pandemic will last, or how deep of a recession will follow. But Camping World appears to be driving into a recession in the early stages of a turnaround, and with nearly $3 billion in total debt on its balance sheet. Given that outlook, it is no wonder investors decided to head for the exits in March.