Many economic experts, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, are calling for a brief and shallow recession.
If these economic soothsayers are right, what is the best way to take advantage of that kind of event? What would a "short recession" stock screen call for?
It's a problem worthy of the man most famous for referring to the dot-com bubble as "irrational exuberance."
The first problem is economic growth. Our gross domestic product (GDP), is slow, down to 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008. It's important to note: That's very slow but definitely not contracting, as would happen in what most people would call a recession.
But recessions can, and often do, start in quarters when the government reports positive GDP growth. Consider research done recently by Barry Ritholtz.
The chief market strategist at Ritholtz Research & Analytics found that initially reported GDP sometimes gets revised lower. In the two most recent recessions, for instance, GDP data was initially reported as positive, only to be revised later to negative.
In 1990, according to Ritholtz, an initial report of 1.8 percent positive growth for third-quarter GDP was later revised to negative 1.6 percent.
As the next recession began, in 2001, initial reports showed 2 percent growth. That was subsequently revised to a 0.6 percent contraction.
Could it happen again? No one really knows, but the 1990 and 2001 recessions were later recognized to be fairly brief and mild, conditions similar to the "pale recession" recently forecast by Greenspan.
That gives us a starting point for finding stocks that would do well in those conditions.
This superstar screen based on Greenspan's "mild recession" call looked at the stocks that performed the best in the year after the start of each of the most recent mild recessions.
Two groups appeared in the top five performers each time — home improvement retailers and casinos. Agricultural companies and for-profit schools also did well.
The best performers increased earnings during the following, weak recessions. So here we identify stocks which grew earnings last year and are projected to see earnings increase this year as well.
The following "weak recession" screen includes eight stocks:
ANDE manages grain elevators and sells fertilizers at the wholesale and retail level, among other businesses. Earnings have grown by an average of more than 40 percent a year over the past five years, while the P/E ratio is only 12 at the recent price of 43.45.
Apollo Group (APOL)
Best known for its University of Phoenix night school division, APOL operates several other training programs offering degree programs and continuing education. Its 40 percent return on equity indicates good management and strong future prospects. Recent price: 48.32.
Bally Technologies (BYI)
From its beginnings as a pinball machine manufacturer in the Depression, BYI now creates high tech gaming systems linking casinos. This helps the casino manage players, increasing the amount of money the casino wins. The result: Profits at BYI should grow by 25 percent next year. Recent price: 36.80.
Churchill Downs (CHDN)
Insiders already own nearly 30 percent of the company, so it is surprising to see them continuing to buy over the past six months. Despite a P/E ratio of 40, the managers who know the company best still think it's a good investment, even recently trading at 45.72.
GP Strategies (GPX)
As companies outsourced training, GPX has benefited. Earnings growth has averaged more than 80 percent a year for five years. While earnings growth is expected to slow to only 20 percent a year going forward, a share price near 10 gives the company a P/E ratio of just 17.
Sherwin Williams (SHW)
With home sales declining, many homeowners will choose to paint a few rooms in their existing homes, a low-cost home improvement. SHW will profit from this trend, and investors will earn a 2.5 percent dividend while earnings grow at a double digit pace. Trading near 57.
Tractor Supply Company (TSCO)
This little-known company operates nearly 800 retail stores in farm communities. Among its largest investors is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A recent price of 33.34 gives this growth stock a P/E ratio of 15.
WMS Industries (WMS)
A pure play slot machine maker, this company should see earnings double over the next four years. WMS is well positioned to gain from the trend of more states allowing slot machines in an effort to increase revenue without raising taxes. Closed at 38.33 recently.
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