Trends Report

What Do the Phases of the Business Cycle Mean to You?

By ITR Economics on November 19, 2018

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ITR Economics is the oldest, privately-held, continuously operating, economic research and consulting firm in the US.

ITR is here to help! Understanding the four phases of the business cycle will add to your confidence as you make decisions for your company.

As an ITR Trends Report™ subscriber, you’ve become familiar with how ITR presents its analysis of each of the individual markets that make up the larger economic sectors. Each market analysis includes its own actionable Management Objective™ which corresponds to the individual market's current phase in the business cycle, among other factors. Understanding the practical meaning of each business cycle phase can help you better put those Management Objectives into practice.

ITR economist and speaker Lauren Saidel-Baker sums up the phases nicely below:

Phase A: Recovery

During this phase of the business cycle, activity is below the year-ago level, but the 12/12 rate-of-change is rising. Pessimism prevails during Phase A, but if you know that the rate-of-change analysis signals positive economic momentum, your company can take advantage of the gloomy economic atmosphere. Consider strategic acquisitions of capital equipment or businesses while valuations are low. Increased sales and marketing efforts during this phase will give you a head start on the competition as the coming economic upturn approaches. Above all, ensure that you have the workforce and capacity in place to meet demand during the coming accelerating growth trend.

Phase B: Accelerating Growth

Phase B represents the best stage of the business cycle: the 12/12 rate-of-change is above zero and rising. During this phase, activity is expanding at an accelerating pace. Take actions that will extend the rising trend for as long as possible as well as build brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. Phase B is a great time to invest in your workforce through training programs and additional hiring. And if you’re looking for an exit ramp, a high degree of economic confidence can make Phase B the best time to sell a company.

Phase C: Slowing Growth

This phase can be the most treacherous to navigate, as activity is still rising on a year-over-year basis, but the 12/12 rate-of-change is declining. During Phase C, it is easy to be swept along by the optimism that remains predominant throughout the economy. However, it is more important than ever to exercise caution and avoid overextending yourself as your business moves along the back side of the business cycle. Cash is king during Phase C. Attentive balance sheet management will enable you to avoid the worst of the coming slowdown. Carefully consider your workforce needs and avoid committing to long-term expenses at the top of the price cycle.

Phase D: Recession

During the final phase of the business cycle, activity is contracting, and the 12/12 rate-of-change is posting negative numbers. Even during this phase, it is possible to remain profitable and set your business up for success during the next upswing. Phase D may require cost-cutting measures. Consider amending your advertising plans and credit policies. Consider your equipment needs and marketing, hiring, and training plans for the next cycle. It is especially important to lead with confidence during this phase and share good news early. Many younger employees have not experienced a recession during their careers and will follow management’s lead, whether that means maintaining strong morale or succumbing to panic. Be ready to move into Phase A with conviction when your rate-of-change and leading indicator analysis gives you the green light.

Fully understanding the phases of the business cycle can help you apply analysis and Management Objectives to your business in an optimal way.

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