Donald Trump has broken the mold of a presidential candidate. Hate him or love him, it's virtually impossible to ignore him. It seems Trump is making headline-grabbing statements nearly daily. Recently, The Donald raised eyebrows in an interview with The Washington Post in which the bombastic businessman predicted the country is headed for a "very massive recession." During the interview Trump also predicted he would be able to eliminate the national debt within eight years. Economists of all stripes disagreed with Trump's recession claim. But the truth is: He's (sort of) right.
One thing we know is the odds of another recession are virtually 100%. Is Trump correct about the severity or timing? Who knows? Pundits took Trump's comments to mean he's saying we're very near a huge downturn, but current economic conditions, especially in the United States, appear to not support that. If anything, the United States has been the most resilient developed economy after the Great Recession. However, the question isn't if the next recession will occur, but when. And the next question is how to succeed at investing during a recession.
While most stocks struggle during recessions, a few actually do well in poor economies. Typically, companies with highly resilient business models, low correlations with the overall stock market (beta), and high dividends outperform. Here are a few stocks with the ability to outperform the greater market during the next recession.
Telcos are the new utilities
In past recessions, investors flocked to utilities for the reasons I mentioned above. While consumers may be more mindful of their electricity usage, very few are going to go back to candles and open-air cooking in an economic downturn. The necessity of its product, the oligopolistic market structure, and high dividend payouts ensure the industry's financial performance is not highly correlated with the greater economy. Telecommunication firms have become the new utilities, as many millennials consider wireless coverage right above belonging on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
During the Great Recession, shares of the United States' largest telco, Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ), performed admirably. In 2009, against the backdrop of the recession, Verizon grew pro forma revenue (adjusting for the Alltel acquisition) 1.5%, versus the U.S. GDP contraction of 2.4%. Verizon's low beta of 0.48, recession-resistant business, and high dividend yield of 4.4% should outperform other companies in the event Trump's forecasts become reality.
Smoking is a hard habit to break
Every day investors are bombarded with stories of new, innovative companies posting mind-boggling one-year gains. You couldn't be blamed for thinking a groundbreaking technology or pharmaceutical company would have been the best-performing stock over the past 50 years. You would be wrong, however. As fellow Fool Morgan Housel discusses in more detail, that enviable title goes to Altria (NYSE:MO).
From 1968 to 2015, the company provided investors annualized returns of nearly 21% versus the greater S&P's annualized return of 9.9%. During that same time frame, the United States economy has endured numerous bear markets and seven recognized recessions. It's no surprise Altria's correlation with the overall market is low, with the stock boasting a beta nearly 30% lower than the overall market.
Additionally, the cigarette industry has faced industry-specific threats, as the government-sponsored war on smoking has cut U.S. adult smoking rates from approximately 40% in 1968 to less than 17% in 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Long story short, if smokers haven't quit by now, they're probably not going to do so during a stress-inducing recession.
Ignore the rhetoric, but plan for setbacks
As the presidential season kicks into high gear, it's important for investors to separate facts from hyperbole, especially in a year where hyperbole is in abundant supply on both sides of the aisle. As a counterpoint to Trump's predictions, economists on both sides of the issue think the probability of a massive recession is slim to nil. Additionally, Trump's claims to eliminate nearly $20 trillion of U.S. debt while instituting a large tax cut also seem to be detached from reality.
But what is true is that long-term investors should prepare for recessions, as they're a natural part of the economic cycle. Since 1968, there have been seven recessions in 48 years, averaging roughly one recession every seven years. Three of these downturns were longer than one year with two producing unemployment rates of 10% or more. However, during that same time frame (1968 to today), $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 would have grown to $87,000 ($54,000 including the effects of inflation). Prepare for setbacks, but ignore political-inspired rhetoric.