By some important measures, the economy is booming. The unemployment rate is at a record low, the number of new jobs that have been created is at a record high, and the stock market remains strong. But don’t try to convince the millions of Americans up against the financial ropes how good things are. They’ve formed very rigid opinions about this, not by studying statistics or analyzing charts, but from their real-life experiences. And optimistic is the last thing they’re feeling.
Consider what’s happening to millennials. Almost two-thirds of people aged 23 to 38 are living paycheck to paycheck, and only 38% feel financially secure, according to a very recent survey conducted by the investment management company Charles Schwab. Adding to their hardship is the fact that they also are carrying more debt than this age group did in any other generation.
They have additional problems, too. A 2017 survey by GoBankingRates found that most “young millennials,” those between 18 and 24 years old, had less than $1,000 in savings. Nearly half had nothing saved at all, and the number of young people in that predicament is increasing. In 2016, 31% of young millennials had $0 saved, but in 2017 this number had increased to 46%.
Even “older millennials” – those between 25 and 34 – are having a difficult time saving money. Sixty-one percent had less than $1,000 in savings, while 41% had nothing at all, numbers that the Federal Reserve says are typical of the overall population.
Millennials are about to overtake baby boomers as the largest generational demographic in the US, and economists forecast that in the next five years they will become the majority of the workforce.
From Paycheck To Paycheck
The hardships millennials are experiencing are only part of the economic problems out there. Approximately 40% of American families are hard-pressed to purchase food, health care, pay rent, and pay for other necessities, according to an Urban Institute survey of 7,600 adults.
Even being employed is no guarantee of becoming financially secure. “Having a job doesn’t ensure families will be able to meet their basic needs,” said Michael Karpman, one of the experts who created and analyzed this survey. Surprisingly, economic conditions in half of the zip codes in the US have actually worsened since the recovery began.
According to Schwab, “millennials will be devastated when the next recession strikes.” However, the difficulties won’t be limited to them.
Schwab believes that a recession could arrive as early as the first half of 2020, but there are some experts who believe one could come even sooner than that. Investment firm Morgan Stanley said that the probability of a recession in the US in the next year has increased to 60%, the highest it has been since the global financial crisis in 2008-2009.
JP Morgan has drawn a similar conclusion: it believes the probability of a US recession in the second half of this year has risen to 40% from 25% a month ago. Banking firm Barclays expects a recession in nine months.
Time To Worry?
Meanwhile, economic headlines are anything but reassuring, as they suggest a rapidly slowing economy in the US and around the world. Here are some of them:
*UK retail sales crashed by the most on record.
*Nearly 25% of Americans are using debt to pay for food.
*In April, US auto sales suffered their worst decline in eight years.
*Existing home sales have fallen for 13 consecutive months; sales of luxury homes have declined by the most in nine years.
*Apple iPhone sales are falling at a record pace.
*US retailers have already shuttered over 6,000 stores this year, more than the record number they closed in all of 2018.
*Credit card delinquencies are now the highest in eight years.
These headlines raise fears that the economy may be slowing. If so, are stocks overpriced?
Rolling With The Punches
Experts tell us that some sectors of the economy perform better in good times, while others are more attractive in a weak economic environment.
According to the website smartassets.com, in the event of a recession “you may want to consider investing in the healthcare, utilities, and consumer goods sectors. People are likely to still spend money on medical care, household items, electricity, and food during a recession, so these stocks may end up being less volatile than those in other sectors.
“Investing in dividend stocks can be a great way to generate passive income. When you’re comparing dividend stocks, some experts say it’s a good idea to look for companies with low debt-to-equity ratios and strong balance sheets. If you don’t know where to start, you may want to look into dividend aristocrats, which are companies that have increased their dividend payouts for at least 25 consecutive years.”
While dividend aristocrats are highly regarded, even their fundamentals are subject to change quickly.
It’s by no means certain that a recession is in the works. However, planning for one now will help investors weather economic turbulence that may unfold in the coming months. One only needs to think back to late 2018 to be reminded about how fast sentiment can shift on Wall Street. A little planning now can prevent a lot of grief later.
Sources: apnews.com; cnbc.com; fxempire.com; smartasset.com