Passivity in a Recession Can Kill Your Portfolio

Passivity, also known as, going with the flow or going along with the herd, will kill your portfolio in a recession.

The problem with following the herd in a recession is that you could be following the herd off a cliff. As investors head for the exits, more and more join in until a stampede takes over and there’s blood in the streets.

Investors that sell off their investments in a freefall never fully recover their losses.

Passivity, when it comes to investing, doesn’t mean being patient and riding out a crisis. It means accepting what everyone else is doing and just going along. When the market bottomed out in 2009, it took six years for the Dow to return to its pre-crash levels.

Investors who just went along with the crowd and bailed on the downslope in 2009 never fully recovered their losses because most waited too long to get back in the game, and by then, they had far too much of a deficit to overcome.

In a recession, investors who go against the flow are the ones who will prosper. The herd, acting on impulses, is always wrong in a downturn.

“Wrong does not cease to be wrong just because the majority
share in it.”  -Leo Tolstoy

Investors who go against the crowd – the contrarians – are some of the wealthiest investors around. As the name implies, contrarians try to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing and are seldom wrong.

Warren Buffett is one of the most famous and successful contrarian investors ever. He famously stated, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

Another famous contrarian, Baron Rothschild, an 18th-century British nobleman and member of the Rothschild banking family, once said, “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.”

Contrarians not only buy when others are selling and sell when others are buying but, in many cases, they’re playing in a different sandbox.

To see contrarians in action, look no further than June of last year when a group of ultra-wealthy investors were surveyed on what they anticipated in the coming year for the markets and how they were adjusting their investment allocations.

What the ultra-wealthy were doing in the middle of record-setting closes on the Dow might surprise you.

In June of last year, according to a UBS Global Family Office Report, 55 percent of wealthy families surveyed – worth an average of $1.2 billion – predicted the U.S. would slide into a recession within the next year. They were right. They may not have predicted that the downturn would be caused by a virus originating in China, but they rightly anticipated something was coming and took action.

So while the herd was gobbling up stocks, the ultra-wealthy went in the opposite direction. They sold their stock and reallocated their assets to alternative investments and into cash.

The everyday investor probably thought they were fools. Nobody thinks they’re fools anymore, not after the more than 30% drop in the stock market in a little more than a month starting in February.

So why long-term private investments and cash?

They reallocated to long-term private investments with outlooks of 10 to 15 years for two reasons:

  • They’re interested in assets with long-term growth that provide consistent cash flow – ideally backed by hard assets.
  • Long-term private investments with 10-15 year lockdown periods are sheltered from the herd mentality and, as a consequence, Wall Street volatility. So with long-term private investments, they wanted to shield themselves from the recession while retaining an income stream in an environment of rising unemployment.

The wealthy are reallocating their investment assets towards recession-resistant businesses and assets like dollar stores and certain classes of commercial real estate.

Although there are segments of commercial real estate like retail and office that are affected by economic downturns, there are other segments that thrive in recessions, and this segment is affordable housing.

So why were the ultra-wealthy hoarding cash last year?

Because they anticipated there would be blood in the streets this year and they were right. Today, while mainstream investors panic in a massive sell-off, someone has to buy those bargain-basement stocks. Now, while everyone is selling, the ultra-wealthy contrarians are bargain hunting.

Some may have the opinion that contrarian investors are just taking advantage of other investors, but you can’t blame them for having different survival instincts and strategies. I’m sure there are a lot of investors today who wished they had followed the ultra-wealthy last June when the UBS survey came out.

The truth about the ultra-wealthy is that they’re always prepared for recessions by going against the crowd. Most of their portfolios allocated more than 80% towards illiquid alternative investments that not only generate higher risk-adjusted returns than stocks but are shielded from market volatility.

Here’s proof, in 2018, while the S&P was down 4.38%, the Yale Endowment, one of the country’s most successful institutional investors, reported a return of 12.3%.

That’s because the Yale Model, named for the Yale Endowment investment strategy, is heavily invested in the types of recession-resistant alternative investments ultra-wealthy investors prefer.

What contrarian investors like the ultra-wealthy have demonstrated time and again is that passivity will kill your portfolio in a recession and set you up for disaster in an expansion.

Follow their lead and go against Wall Street. Explore private alternative investments that are recession-proof and provide higher returns.

Many investors now wish they had gotten rid of their stocks last year before everything went to pot this year.

Don’t wait to go against the flow.