Economists are increasingly forecasting a recession next year, but one believes the downturn has already begun.
Gary Shilling, an economist and financial analyst who is credited with predicting several recessions over the past 40 years, thinks the U.S. is in a relatively mild slump.
“I think we’re probably already in a recession but I think it will probably be a run-of-the-mill affair, which means real GDP would decline 1.5% to 2%, not the 3.5% to 4% you had in the very serious recessions,” Shilling, president of economic and financial research firm A. Shilling & Co., said in a recent interview broadcast this week by Real Vision.
In such a tempered slide, he says, “Stocks probably wouldn’t fall” but if they did, they likely would tumble about 22% — similar to other recent recessions. That, he says, would take the Standard and Poor’s 500 index about 200 points below it’s Christmas Eve nadir of 2,351.
His view is at odds with the vast majority of economists who expect the economy to grow a solid 2% to 2.5% this year after expanding at about a 3% clip last year and in the first quarter.
Shilling points to:
• Declining industrial production, a result of a weak global economy and the Trump administration’s trade war with China.
• Feeble job growth of 75,000 in May, along with downward revisions to prior months.
• The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s recession probability chart, which shows about a 30% chance of a downturn the next 12 months, up from about 10% early this year. That data is based on an inversion of the yield curve, which has shown rates on 3-month Treasury bonds topping 10-year notes recently – a sign that investors don’t have much faith in the longer-term outlook. Inversions do herald recessions but often two years in advance.
• The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s leading economic indicators, which has edged down since last year.
• Shilling also cites weak housing data, though he notes falling mortgage rates have bolstered home sales in recent months.
Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist of High Frequency Economics, agrees that falling industrial output is worrisome. But while job growth has slowed substantially from last year, he chalks up May’s 75,000 payroll advance to normal volatility. He says it’s typically an outright drop in employment that foreshadows recession, not a slowing.
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More significantly, O’Sullivan notes that initial jobless claims – a gauge of layoffs and perhaps the most reliable real-time recession indicator — have remained near 40-year lows.
The National Bureau of Economic Research typically calls recessions based on industrial production, employment, retail sales and personal income. Noting that only factory output is flashing red, O’Sullivan says, “A realistic assessment of the evidence is that we are not currently in recession.”
Still, he adds, “There’s clearly a case for some slowing” in the economy. And it won’t be known definitively if the U.S. is in recession for many months.
“They generally don’t call recessions until well after they start,” he says.
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