Understanding the business cycle is essential for investors, as it can help them anticipate changes in the stock market and make more informed investment decisions.
Here is what you need to understand about the business cycle, how it works, and why it's important. We’ll also look at how the business cycle has affected the stock market and offer tips to capitalize on upcoming expansions and avoid potential downturns.
The business cycle explained
The business cycle is a recurring pattern of expansion and contraction in economic activity, measured by indicators like gross domestic product (GDP) and employment.
The cycle has four phases:
- Expansion: Economic growth is positive and above average. This phase is also known as the recovery phase.
- Peak: Economic growth slows and reaches its maximum level.
- Contraction: Economic growth turns negative and begins to decline. This phase is also known as the recession phase.
- Trough: Economic activity reaches its lowest point.
Historically, the technical definition of a recession from an economic indicator perspective has been two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. Early expansion occurs as an economy begins to grow after a recession. As the expansion matures, growth declines, and the economy peaks.
Following the peak, the economy contracts as growth slows. The contraction continues through an economic recession until growth returns, and the cycle repeats. The business cycle may also be called the “boom/bust” cycle.
Several factors influence the business cycle, including changes in consumer confidence, interest rates, and government spending.
Business cycle & the stock market
The stock market is affected by the business cycle in many ways. In general, stocks do well during expansions and poorly during contractions.
During an expansion, businesses grow and make more money. This often leads to increased stock prices, as investors are willing to pay more for shares of profitable companies.
Conversely, during a contraction, businesses struggle, and profits are often down. This can lead to lower stock prices, as investors are less likely to pay for shares of companies that are not doing well.
Business cycle & the economy
The business cycle has a different impact on different parts of the economy.
During an expansion, businesses often do well, as they can increase prices and sell more products. However, consumers may find that their wages do not keep pace with inflation.
During a contraction, businesses may struggle, as consumers have less money to spend. However, consumers’ wages may not be as affected, so their disposable income might be higher.
Different sectors of the economy tend to perform better during different parts of the business cycle. For example, consumer discretionary stocks typically outperform during expansions, while defensive stocks outperform during contractions.
How does the Federal Reserve influence the business cycle?
The Federal Reserve can influence the business cycle by changing interest rates. The Fed’s open market operations are one of the essential tools it uses to influence the business cycle.
If the Fed lowers interest rates, it makes it easier for businesses to borrow money and grow. This can lead to an expansion in the economy.
Conversely, it becomes more difficult for businesses to borrow money and expand if the Fed raises interest rates.
How to survive challenging economic periods
Individuals and businesses can do several things to protect themselves from the negative effects of a recession or economic downturn.
- Diversify your investment portfolio to include assets that tend to do well during economic contractions, such as bonds and gold
- Cut costs and expenses where possible
- Increase your savings to have a buffer in case of tough economic times
- Delay major purchases until the economy improves
The government can also take steps to help stabilize the economy during a recessionary period.
- Implement fiscal stimulus, such as tax cuts or increased government spending
- Lower interest rates to encourage borrowing and investment
- Provide financial assistance to struggling businesses
- Implement policies to increase consumer confidence