Have you heard there’s a recession coming? Don’t panic, it won’t be tomorrow or next month, but according to many economists, it’s getting closer.

The good news is most economists agree we won’t have a recession next year. Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said at the Annual Mortgage Bankers Association Conference in October that “the economy’s stellar run can make it through at least 2019.” Yellen went on to say she doesn’t see any outstanding financial imbalances right now. The only thing she said that worries her is that the economy could overheat due to strong employment growth.

The issue with labor is certainly something we are experiencing in the construction industry. It’s having a significant effect on residential building, as the increased labor cost, rising commodity prices for building materials, and higher mortgage rates have all reduced affordability for homebuyers. This has slowed down the pace of new home building, which is still well below prior peak highs.

Yellen’s views are consistent with a forecast I saw last week by Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group. According to Basu, 2019 looks solid but the picture gets a lot murkier after that, and he projects there will be a mild recession in 2020 or 2021.

In addition to the inflationary pressures noted above, Basu points to several factors that will lead to a recession. One reason is that debt has reached an all-time high in part because of all the debt taken on by public corporations and private equity firms.

In addition, he says the U.S. equity, U.S. bond and commercial real estate markets have all gotten overheated.

We all know the recession will eventually come and it’s only a matter of “when.” The question then is what to do to prepare for it. Here are a few strategies:

Reduce debt

Many of our contractors have a plan to pay off the fixed portion of their equipment debt in the next year or two to free themselves of the fixed expense should they need to reduce overhead.

I would further encourage contractors to reduce and ultimately eliminate any reliance on their bank line of credit. Banks are fickle when it comes to the construction market, and we’ve already heard of some that are reducing their exposure to contractors. This puts contractors in the undesirable position of being “surprised” when the bank pulls the rug from underneath them just when they need the line of credit most.

Avoid big purchases for business or personal use

As many contractors see their incomes peak, it’s very tempting to use that cash to make a big purchase. Many of these purchases not only drain cash, but also add an ongoing stream of debt that will continue long after the music from the good economy stops. Those things can be purchased after the recession, and they might even be on sale. It pays to wait.

Create a proforma

It’s not uncommon for contractors to see revenues decline by 30 percent to 50 percent during a recession, depending on the severity and segment of the market they operate in. I was advised several years ago to always have a proforma income statement showing how a significant decline in revenue would affect company earnings.

It’s easy. Simply take your last fiscal year-end financial statement and reduce the earnings and gross profit by the percentages you think are appropriate. Could your company survive that kind of hit?

A second step to the exercise is to identify those nonessential expenses that can be cut. I tend to categorize expenses in steps or phases. My first phase is the least essential, like sports tickets, for example, and each successive phase gets a little deeper.

Planning for a downturn is not high on most people’s list of things to do. However, it can take some of the emotion out of the process, as it’s never easy, especially in the moment.

The fact is, it’s part of operating a lasting business, and as Rick Mears, one of the Indianapolis 500 winners once said, “To finish first, you must first finish.”

Dan Huckabay can be reached at (714) 351-8080 or at Dan@commercialsurety.com

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