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Everything You Need to Know About Recessions

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Everything You Need to Know About Recessions

expansions recessions

Everything You Need to Know About Recessions

Just like in life, markets go through peaks and valleys. The good news for investors is that often the peaks ascend to far greater heights than the depths of the valleys.

Today’s post helps to put recessions into perspective. It draws information from Capital Group to break down the frequency of economic expansions and recessions in modern U.S. history, while also showing their typical impact.

What is a Recession?

Not all recessions are the same. Some can last long while others are short. Some create lasting effects, while others are quickly forgotten. Some cripple entire economies, while others are much more targeted, impacting specific sectors within the economy.

Recession is when your neighbor loses their job. Depression is when you lose yours.

– Harry Truman

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a recession can be described as a significant decline in economic activity over an extended period of time, typically several months.

In the average recession, gross domestic product (GDP) is not the only thing shrinking—incomes, employment, industrial production, and retail sales tend to shrink as well. Economists generally consider two consecutive quarters of declining GDP as a recession.

The general economic model of a recession is that when unemployment rises, consumers are more likely to save than spend. This places pressure on businesses that rely on consumers’ income. As a result, company earnings and stock prices decline, which can fuel a negative cycle of economic decline and negative expectations of returns.

recession expansion cycle

During economic recoveries and expansions, the opposite occurs. Rising employment encourages consumer spending, which bolsters corporate profits and stock market returns.

How Long Do Recessions Last?

Recessions generally do not last very long. According to Capital Group’s analysis of 10 cycles since 1950, the average length of a recession is 11 months, although they have ranged from eight to 18 months over the period of analysis.

Jobs losses and business closures are dramatic in the short term, though equity investments in the stock market have generally fared better. Throughout the history of economics, recessions have been relatively small blips.

 Average ExpansionAverage Recession
Months6711
GDP Growth24.3%-1.8%
S&P 500 Returns117%3%
Net Jobs Added12M-1.9M

Over the last 65 years, the U.S. has been in an official recession for less than 15% of all months. In addition, the overall economic impact of most recessions is relatively small. The average expansion increased GDP by 24%, whereas the average recession decreased GDP by less than 2%.

In fact, equity returns can be positive throughout a contraction, since some of the strongest stock rallies have occurred in the later stages of a recession.

Buying the Dip: Recession Indicators

Whether you are an investor or not, it would be wise to pay attention to potential recessions and prepare accordingly.

There are several indicators that people can watch to anticipate a potential recession, which might give them an edge in preparing their portfolios:

Recession IndicatorWhy is it Important?Average Length Until Recession
Inverted Yield CurveOften a sign the U.S. Fed has hiked short-term rates too high or investors are seeking long-term bonds over riskier assets.15.7 months
Corporate ProfitsWhen profits decline, businesses cut investment, employment, and wages.26.2 months
UnemploymentWhen unemployment rises, consumers cut back on spending.6.1 months
Housing StartsWhen the economic outlook is poor, home builders often cut back on housing projects.5.3 months
Leading Economic Index
Aggregation of multiple leading economic indicators. gives a broader look at the U.S. economy.
4.1 months

This is not a magic rubric for anticipating every economic downturn, but it helps individuals see the weather patterns on the horizon. Whether and where the storm hits is another question.

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing the Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

With international travel grinding to a halt, here are the economies that have the most to lose from a lack of tourism.

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Visualizing the Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

Without a steady influx of tourism revenue, many countries could face severe economic damage.

As the global travel and tourism industry stalls, the spillover effects to global employment are wide-reaching. A total of 330 million jobs are supported by this industry around the world, and it contributes 10%, or $8.9 trillion to global GDP each year.

Today’s infographic uses data from the World Travel & Tourism Council, and it highlights the countries that depend the most on the travel and tourism industry according to employment—quantifying the scale that the industry contributes to the health of the global economy.

Ground Control

Worldwide, 44 countries rely on the travel and tourism industry for more than 15% of their total share of employment. Unsurprisingly, many of the countries suffering the most economic damage are island nations.

At the same time, data reveals the extent to which certain larger nations rely on tourism. In New Zealand, for example, 479,000 jobs are generated by the travel and tourism industry, while in Cambodia tourism contributes to 2.4 million jobs.

RankCountryT&T Share of Jobs (2019)T&T Jobs (2019)Population
1Antigua & Barbuda91%33,80097,900
2Aruba84%35,000106,800
3St. Lucia78%62,900183,600
4US Virgin Islands69%28,800104,400
5Macau66%253,700649,300
6Maldives60%155,600540,500
7St. Kitts & Nevis59%14,10053,200
8British Virgin Islands54%5,50030,200
9Bahamas52%103,900393,200
10Anguilla51%3,80015,000
11St. Vincent & the Grenadines45%19,900110,900
12Seychelles44%20,60098,300
13Grenada43%24,300112,500
14Former Netherlands Antilles41%25,70026,200
15Belize39%64,800397,600
16Cape Verde39%98,300556,000
17Dominica39%13,60072,000
18Vanuatu36%29,000307,100
19Barbados33%44,900287,400
20Cayman Islands33%12,30065,700
21Jamaica33%406,1002,961,000
22Montenegro33%66,900628,100
23Georgia28%488,2003,989,000
24Cambodia26%2,371,10016,719,000
25Fiji26%90,700896,400
26Croatia25%383,4004,105,000
27Philippines24%10,237,700109,600,000
28Sao Tome and Principe23%14,500219,200
29Bermuda23%7,80062,300
30Albania22%254,3002,880,000
31Iceland22%44,100341,200
32Greece22%846,20010,420,000
33Thailand21%8,054,60069,800,000
34Malta21%52,800441,500
35New Zealand20%479,4004,822,000
36Lebanon19%434,2006,825,000
37Mauritius19%104,2001,272,000
38Portugal19%902,40010,197,000
39Kiribati18%6,600119,000
40Gambia18%129,6002,417,000
41Jordan18%254,70010,200,000
42Dominican Republic17%810,80010,848,000
43Uruguay16%262,5003,474,000
44Namibia15%114,6002,541,000

Croatia, another tourist hotspot, is hoping to reopen in time for peak season—the country generated tourism revenues of $13B in 2019. With a population of over 4 million, travel and tourism contributes to 25% of its workforce.

How the 20 Largest Economies Stack Up

Tourist-centric countries remain the hardest hit from global travel bans, but the world’s biggest economies are also feeling the impact.

In Spain, tourism ranks as the third highest contributor to its economy. If lockdowns remain in place until September, it is projected to lose $68 billion (€62 billion) in revenues.

RankCountryTravel and Tourism, Contribution to GDP
1Mexico15.5%
2Spain14.3%
3Italy13.0%
4Turkey11.3%
5China11.3%
6Australia10.8%
7Saudi Arabia9.5%
8Germany9.1%
9United Kingdom9.0%
10U.S.8.6%
11France8.5%
12Brazil7.7%
13Switzerland7.6%
14Japan7.0%
15India6.8%
16Canada6.3%
17Netherlands5.7%
18Indonesia5.7%
19Russia5.0%
20South Korea2.8%

On the other hand, South Korea is impacted the least: just 2.8% of its GDP is reliant on tourism.

Travel, Interrupted

Which countries earn the most from the travel and tourism industry in absolute dollar terms?

Topping the list was the U.S., with tourism contributing over $1.8 trillion to its economy, or 8.6% of its GDP in 2019. The U.S. remains a global epicenter for COVID-19 cases, and details remain unconfirmed if the country will reopen to visitors before summer.

Travel and tourism contribution to GDP in absolute terms

Meanwhile, the contribution of travel and tourism to China’s economy has more than doubled over the last decade, approaching $1.6 trillion. To help bolster economic activity, China and South Korea have eased restrictions by establishing a travel corridor.

As countries slowly reopen, other travel bubbles are beginning to make headway. For example, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have eased travel restrictions by creating an established travel zone. Australia and New Zealand have a similar arrangement on the horizon. These travel bubbles allow citizens from each country to travel within a given zone.

Of course, COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on employment and global economic activity with inconceivable outcomes. When the dust finally settles, could global tourism face a reckoning?

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COVID-19

How U.S. Consumers are Spending Differently During COVID-19

How has COVID-19 transformed consumer spending trends so far? We look at credit and debit card spending of 5 million U.S. consumers across 18 categories.

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In 2019, nearly 70% of U.S. GDP was driven by personal consumption.

However, in the first quarter of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has initiated a transformation of consumer spending trends as we know them.

Consumer Spending in Charts

By leveraging new data from analytics platform 1010Data, today’s infographic dives into the credit and debit card spending of five million U.S. consumers over the past few months.

Let’s see how their spending habits have evolved over that short timeframe:

How U.S. Consumers are Spending Differently During COVID-19

The above data on consumer spending, which comes from 1010Data and powered by AI platform Exabel, is broken into 18 different categories:

  • General Merchandise & Grocery: Big Box, Pharmacy, Wholesale Club, Grocery
  • Retail: Apparel, Office Supplies, Pet Supplies
  • Restaurant: Casual dining, Fast casual, Fast food, Fine dining
  • Food Delivery: Food delivery, Grocery Delivery, Meal/Snack kit
  • Travel: Airline, Car rental, Cruise, Hotel

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has consumers cutting back on most of their purchases, but that doesn’t mean that specific categories don’t benefit from changes in consumer habits.

Consumer Spending Changes By Category

The onset of changing consumer behavior can be observed from February 25, 2020, when compared year-over-year (YoY).

As of May 12, 2020, combined spending in all categories dropped by almost 30% YoY. Here’s how that shakes out across the different categories, across two months.

General Merchandise & Grocery

This segment saw a sharp spike in initial spending, as Americans scrambled to stockpile on non-perishable food, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper from Big Box stores like Walmart, or Wholesale Clubs like Costco.

In particular, spending on groceries reached a YoY increase of 97.1% on March 18, 2020. However, these sudden panic-buying urges leveled out by the start of April.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Big Box+14.2%-1.5%-15.7%
Grocery+1.0%+9.4%+8.4%
Pharmacy-3.6%-23.8%-20.2%
Wholesale Club+13.0%+2.6%-10.4%

Pharmaceutical purchases dropped the most in this segment, possibly as individuals cut back on their healthcare expenditures during this time. In fact, in an April 2020 McKinsey survey of physicians, 80% reported a decline in patient volumes.

Retail

With less foot traffic in malls and entire stores forced to close, sales of apparel plummeted both in physical locations and over e-commerce platforms.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Apparel-5.6%-51.9%-46.3%
Office Supplies-8.9%-2.8%+6.1%
Pet Supplies+2.7%-18.5%-21.2%

Interestingly, sales of office supplies rose as many pivoted to working from home. Many parents also likely required more of these resources to home-school their children.

Restaurant

The food and beverage industry has been hard-hit by COVID-19. While many businesses turned to delivery services to stay afloat, those in fine dining were less able to rely on such a shift, and spiraled by 88.2% by May 5, 2020, year-over-year.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY ChangeOverall Change
Casual Dining-2.7%-64.9%-62.2%
Fast Casual4.2%-29.6%-33.8%
Fast Food2.0%-20.9%-22.9%
Fine Dining-18.6%-88.2%-69.6%

Applebees or Olive Garden exemplify casual dining, while Panera or Chipotle characterize fast casual.

Food Delivery

Meanwhile, many consumers also shifted from eating out to home cooking. As a result, grocery delivery services jumped by over five-fold—with consumers spending a whopping 558.4% more at its April 19, 2020 peak compared to last year.

 Feb. 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Food Delivery+18.8%+67.1%+48.3%
Grocery Delivery+23.0%+419.7%+396.7%
Meal/ Snack Kit+7.0%-5.9%-12.9%

Food delivery services are also in high demand, with Doordash seeing the highest growth in U.S. users than any other food delivery app in April.

Travel

While all travel categories experienced an immense decline, cruises suffered the worst blow by far, down by 87.0% in YoY spending since near the start of the pandemic.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Airline-7.7%-99.1%-91.4%
Car Rental-6.3%-86.0%-79.7%
Cruise-18.7%-105.7%-87.0%
Hotel-7.0%-85.9%-78.9%

Airlines have also come to a halt, nosediving by 91.4% in a 10-week span. In fact, governments worldwide have pooled together nearly $85 billion in an attempt to bail the industry out.

Hope on the Horizon?

Consumer spending offers a pulse of the economy’s health. These sharp drops in consumer spending fall in line with the steep decline in consumer confidence.

In fact, consumer confidence has eroded even more intensely than the stock market’s performance this quarter, as observed when the Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) is compared to the S&P 500 Index.

Consumer Sentiment Index

Many investors dumped their stocks as the coronavirus hit, but consumers tightened their purse strings even more. Yet, as the chart also shows, both the stock market and consumer sentiment are slowly but surely on the mend since April.

As the stay-at-home curtain cautiously begins to lift in the U.S., there may yet be hope for economic recovery on the horizon.

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