Credit Suisse did an interesting exercise recently in a note to clients. They took U.S. equities indices for large cap (S&P500) and small cap (Russell 2000) stocks and computed an average downside to each index across all U.S. recessions from 1980 on and then to the upside from the post-recession trough. The episodes averaged over are: 1980, 1981-1982, 1990-1991, 2001, and 2007-2009. As a caution, there is no survivorship bias (index composition risk) adjustment to the resulting data.
So per CS: “Measuring the average peak-to-trough performance of the Russell 2000 and S&P 500 from one year before the start of each recession to the end of the downturn, the bank found that large caps were more resilient than small caps across the five slumps: the S&P 500 fell by an average of 32 percent, while the Russell 2000 dropped 37 percent. But it was a different story on the way back up. The Russell 2000 averaged returns of 86 percent from the start of each recession to one year after its end, while the S&P 500 posted returns of just 51 percent.”
So over the part of the cycle covered by CS, Russell 2000 was up, net, 17 percent, while S&P was up, net, only 3%.