The Great Recession ended in 2009 and impacted the lives of many. There were a lot of lessons to be learned for investors, plenty of whom saw their investment accounts devastated by selling in the panic. If they had held onto their investments, they would have fully recovered and gone on to increase in value.

This is the first lesson of any recession. A recession is always followed by a recovery that includes a strong rebound in the stock market. The second lesson is that investors do not have to sit idle as their portfolios get pummeled by massive selling. There are some investment strategies that can take advantage of recessionary forces to position a portfolio for a quick and strong rebound.

Key Takeaways

  • A recession is always followed by a recovery that includes a strong rebound in the stock market.
  • When the market starts to plunge, it is time to take advantage by increasing your contributions or starting dollar-cost-averaging in a non-qualified investment account.
  • The best way to own dividend stocks is through mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) that invest strictly in dividend-paying companies.

Dollar-Cost Average When Share Prices Decline

As with most recessions, you probably will not see the next one coming. But you will likely see a sell-off in the stock market well in advance of a recession. When that happens, remember the first lesson: There is recovery after a recession.

Knowing that, investors can take advantage of a declining market through the dollar-cost averaging method of investing. If you make monthly contributions to a qualified retirement plan, you are already using the technique. But when the market starts to plunge, it is time to take advantage by increasing your contributions or starting dollar-cost-averaging in a non-qualified investment account.

When you dollar-cost-average your investing, you are gradually reducing your overall cost basis in the share price, so when the price rebounds, your cost basis is always lower than the price. For example, if you invest $500 a month in a mutual fund selling for $25, your contribution buys 20 shares. If the share price drops to $20, your contribution buys 25 shares. Your account now has 45 shares with an average cost basis of $22.

As the share price drops, your $500 contribution buys an increasing number of shares and your cost basis continues to drop. When share prices rebound, your contribution buys fewer shares each month, but the current share price is always higher than your cost basis. The dollar-cost-averaging method works best over the long term for investors who do not want to worry about how their investments are performing.

If you are going to hold stocks during a recessionary period, the best ones to own are from established, large-cap companies with strong balance sheets and cash flows.

Buy into Dividends

If you are going to hold stocks during a recessionary period, the best ones to own are from established, large-cap companies with strong balance sheets and cash flows. Not only are these companies better situated to weather economic downturns than smaller companies with poor cash flows, but they are also more likely to pay dividends.

For investors, dividends serve a few purposes. First, if a company has a long history of paying and increasing dividends, you can have peace of mind that it is financially sound and can survive most economic environments. Second, dividends provide a return cushion. Even as share prices decline, you still receive a return on your investment. It is for these reasons that dividend stocks tend to outperform non-dividend stocks during market downturns.

The best way to own dividend stocks is through mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) that invest strictly in dividend-paying companies. Funds that invest in companies with long histories of paying dividends and strong track records of increasing those dividends tend to generate high current yields with capital appreciation.

However, don't expect these funds to outperform the market during market rebounds. They are held in portfolios to provide stable returns across different market cycles. As the market rebounds, you can gradually allocate away from your dividend funds, but you should always maintain a portion as a defensive measure.

Invest in Consumer Staples

Even during recessions, consumers need to buy food, drugs, hygiene products, and medical supplies. These are consumer staples that are the last items to be cut from the family budget. So while companies selling flat-screen TVs and other discretionary products experience drops in revenue, companies selling food products and personal necessities do not.

Data shows that these types of companies outperformed the S&P 500 during the last five recessionary periods. Consumer staple companies include Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Conagra, and Wal-Mart. These particular companies also pay good dividends, which strengthens their defensive profile. There are also mutual funds that invest strictly in consumer staple companies. The Fidelity Select Consumer Staples Portfolio invests a minimum of 80% of its assets in companies engaged in the manufacture, sale, or distribution of consumer staples.