Is a double dip recession possible?

Two reports today seemed to confirm that we are probably entering a recession.

The first was the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index that plunged to lows not seen since the early 1980’s and early 1990’s recessions.

The second showed that capacity utilization dropped below 80% at US factories. This, too, is usually an early indicator of recession.

Added to this, import prices are showing a continuous upward trend at the same time. Can you say “stagflation” boys and girls?

This got me to thinking about our last recession in 2001, and how I dramatically under-estimated the impact of government stimuli.

Back then, the Federal government provided huge fiscal stimulus in the form of government spending and tax cuts.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve provided huge monetary stimulus by cutting short term interest rates down to 1% (thus spawning the housing and credit boom, and now, bust).

Will the US government be able to repeat these stimuli? I believe they may succeed in goosing the economy in the short term, probably in the second half of 2008 and first half of 2009, but I don’t think sending out checks and cutting interest rates will fully fix our current economic problems.

This led me to wonder: could a double dip recession like the one that occurred in the early 1980’s happen again now? It’s certainly possible.

Our economy, unfortunately, follows the four year election cycle pretty reliably. It’s very unusual for the stock market to tank in an election year because politicians are promising and delivering all kinds of goodies to get re-elected.

But, such politicians tend to buckle down after the election is over and this slows things down fairly consistently.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that fiscal and monetary stimuli will work this year to get the economy going again. But, in 2009 and 2010, things will get ugly.

So, in the mean time, it’s probably reasonable to expect a recovering economy toward the end of this year, which will probably mean a stock market rally in the spring to summer time frame.

But, look out for 2009 and 2010, when we just may enter a second leg down of a double dip recession. And, this time, the US government will be out of the ammunition they used to bail things out this time.

I’m not personally betting on this scenario, or any other macro-economic scenario for that matter. I invest for the long term and try to look through boom and bust cycles.

The best protection against market and economic cycles like this is to buy great companies at good prices, and that’s what I’m doing for my clients now.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.