U.S. Economy: The Good and The Bad

Monday, August 22, 2011

Investors over the past few weeks have been beset by a strong dose of volatility in both news reports and stock markets. Economists disagree on where the U.S. economy will go from this point forward and their forecasts seem to get increasingly divergent by the day. A recent Bloomberg article, “It’s the Dog Days of Summer, Shall We Take a Double Dip?: The Ticker,” discusses varying views on the likelihood of a double dip recession. The article enlightens both the optimistic and pessimistic sides of the issue. Their conclusion indicates that although the U.S. and global economies are clearly moderating, the consensus scenario is that recession will be avoided.

The Bad:

Polls conducted recently by the Wall Street Journal and USA Today reveal that the consensus on the likelihood of the U.S. entering another recession has risen to 30%, twice as high as a few months ago. Economists generally accept that U.S. growth will be slower and unemployment will remain inflated for a longer period of time than previously thought. On August 22, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase cut their 2011 and 2012 GDP projections. Finally, the need to reduce government spending will handcuff legislators from adopting stimulus measures and the Fed has few tools left to jump-start growth.

The Good:

The consensus on the likelihood of entering another recession is still below 50%. Bob Doll, the chief equity analyst at BlackRock, states: “Stocks have fallen 15% or more in the past few weeks, but since the Great Depression there have been 30 market declines of 15% — but only two of those predicted a recession.” Even with their reduced U.S growth outlook, Citigroup will projects a 20% stock increase over the next 12 months. The jobs picture is discouraging, but is still strong enough to avoid recession. To be sure, the 12-month data regarding new jobless claims has improved and bank lending conditions have eased. Credit flows, an indicator of reinvested savings, continue to be adequate. Corporations are generating strong profits and carry record cash holdings. Recessions are usually associated with having a negative bond yield curve (whose short-term rates rise above long-term rates), and right now the U.S. has the opposite. Schwab economists sum up these positives with the observation that the U.S. will avoid recession “due to continued positive leading economic indicators, an improving jobs picture, solid corporate balance sheets and a still-steep yield curve.”

The slowing U.S. economy is expected to have only a limited impact on global growth. For example, Morgan Stanley recently cut global estimated GDP growth in 2011 to 3.9 percent from 4.2. The dramatic fall of world stock markets in the past few weeks, which we consider excessive, discounts a much greater than 0.3 percent drop in global growth. For a more in-depth view of Marietta’s opinions on this issue, please refer to earlier posted blogs “Clouds Gathering on the U.S. and International Economic Horizon” and “Financial Market Turmoil.”