Investing in a recession: 5 moves investors should make now

As we enter a recession, here’s what investors should do with their portfolios.

The latest economic forecast from the OECD suggests the UK economy is projected to be the worst performer in the G20 over the next two years – except for Russia which is suffering from a number of international sanctions.

With that and the Bank of England’s forecast of a lengthy recession after the economy slipped by 0.2% in the third quarter of the year, investors may be asking how best they can recession-proof their investments.

As we enter a period of weak economic conditions, we look at how you can inject some resilience into your investment portfolio amid a recession.

1. Diversify well

Diversification is of course important, but a well diversified portfolio could serve you well during a recession.

Laith Khalaf, head of investment analysis at AJ Bell, said: “Economic hardship puts pressure on businesses all across the market spectrum and you never know precisely where the cracks are going to appear, so you shouldn’t have too much in any one stock, fund, industry or region.”

Make sure you also keep the number of investments in your portfolio manageable – if you have too many, you may find it difficult to manage and act on time sensitive news like profit warnings, for example.

 2. Don’t over-trade

Although you should regularly review your holdings, it is important you don’t over-trade, which could lead to costly mistakes.

“When markets are volatile and losses are mounting, you might be drawn into doing something just to try and exert some sort of control. It’s incredibly tempting to be a portfolio vigilante and take matters into your own hands, distributing some natural justice by petulantly dispensing with investments that have fallen in value. But you should resist that temptation and only make changes based on reasoned considerations rather than on a gut reaction,” says Khalaf.

3. Make the most of your Isa and pension

Make the most of your Isa and Sipp allowances to ensure you are investing in a tax efficient way.

“The annual benefits that are yielded by these simple steps might seem small, but they will compound your returns year in year out, and lead to a bigger nest egg when you come to draw on it. This is especially important given the raft of tax rises we are seeing on earned income, capital gains and dividends over the next few years,” he adds.

4. Don’t ignore dividends yields

Khalaf adds that you should also pay close attention to dividends. “When growth is thin on the ground, dividends can keep your investment scoreboard ticking over. Poor economic conditions aren’t great for profits and hence dividends, but many companies used the shock of the pandemic to cut their regular shareholder payouts and reset them to much more affordable levels.”

Dividend cover for the FTSE 100 currently sits at 2.36, according to the AJ Bell Dividend Dashboard, the highest level in a decade. 

“That means company profits are more than double the amount of dividends being distributed, giving companies a large buffer before they need to start thinking about cutting back again.”

5. Think ahead

“It’s extremely important to recognise that an expectation of future economic conditions is already baked into share prices. Companies which are heavily exposed to under-pressure consumers, such as retailers and travel stocks, have already seen sharp falls this year, while defensive stocks like tobacco companies have had a much better ride,” Khalaf adds.

“The market is always looking ahead and though it might sound strange, now is probably a good time for investors to be anticipating better economic climes, rather than fretting about the current malaise.”

Khalaf says it might be a good time to start thinking about drip feeding money into the market, in recognition of the fact that the global market may yet have further to fall.

 “While the UK recession is forecast to be long, it’s also expected to be shallow, so companies will be trading into an economy that is going down a slight slope rather than plunging off the edge of a cliff. That still gives good companies the ability to grow. Investors should also take note that their investments are likely only partly in thrall to the UK economy, with many funds and indeed companies on the London Stock Exchange deriving lots of their earnings from overseas. Economic growth in the US and the Euro area isn’t looking particularly rosy either, though they are forecast to do better than the UK next year, according to OECD projections.

It is important to remember that recessions happen and it is normal to have ups and downs, but regularly investing can help smooth out returns.

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