Uncertainty is to be expected given the challenges facing an economy in the early stages of growth following an unprecedented upheaval. The sentiment of unusual uncertainty is expressed in this excerpt from the pages of TIME magazine:
“If America’s economic landscape seems suddenly alien and hostile to many citizens, there is good reason: they have never seen anything like it. Nothing in memory has prepared consumers for such turbulent, epochal change, the sort of upheaval that happens once in 50 years.”
“The outward sign of the change is an economy that stubbornly refuses to recover. In a normal rebound, Americans would be witnessing a flurry of hiring, new investment and lending, and buoyant growth. But the U.S. economy remains almost comatose a full year and a half after the recession officially ended. Unemployment is still high; real wages are declining.”
“The current slump already ranks as the longest period of sustained weakness since the Great Depression. That was the last time the economy staggered under as many “structural” burdens, as opposed to the familiar “cyclical” problems that create temporary recessions once or twice a decade. The structural faults represent once-in-a-lifetime dislocations that will take years to work out. Among them: the job drought, the debt hangover, the defense-industry contraction, the savings and loan collapse, the real estate depression, the health-care cost explosion and the runaway federal deficit.”
This excerpt is from September 28, 1992. The same article quoted an economist as saying, “this is a sick economy that won’t respond to traditional remedies. There’s going to be a lot of trauma before it’s over.” But it was over.
The recession ended in 1991 and real GDP was an above average +3.4% in 1992 (about the same pace of growth the economy has averaged this year). Yet, in September 1992, TIME described the economy as “comatose”. When the article was published, the economy had already been growing for six quarters. Hiring had weakened to averaging only +77,000 jobs per month in the four months leading up to this article, but in the following four months it averaged +210,000. In addition, while the structural problems apparent then seemed unsolvable for years to come, real GDP was +2.9% the following year.
In 1992, the uncertainty expressed in the sentiment from the Fed and in the media at the end of the third quarter set the stock market up for a solid fourth quarter rally after a relatively flat year for stocks in the first three quarters. The stock market in 1992 ended with a modest single-digit total return (including dividends) of 7.6%, very similar to our outlook for a modest single-digit gain this year.