Not all recessions are created equal. Previous downturns in the U.S. were prompted by various shocks, with the most recent recession started by health and government-induced shutdowns. Other recessions started in the corporate sector, whereas some started from commodity shocks. The next one could start from geopolitical tensions. Nonetheless, we think the current business and consumer
environments are safe from near-term recession risks
NOT ALL RECESSIONS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Recessions are sometimes difficult to describe, let alone predict. Definitions vary widely. To make matters worse, some coin their mixed forecasts as a “growth recession.”1 Some simply describe a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, which is clearly not true because the 2001 recession was shorter: growth in the first quarter of 2001 declined by 1.3% annualized but between strong quarters both grew above 2%.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the official arbiter of recessions and their definition is not much better. “A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy and that lasts more than a few months.”2 The NBER specifically looks at economic indicators such as production and employment. Because the definitions can be elusive and ambiguous, we think it behooves investors to focus on the overall trajectory and economic environment for both businesses and households.
THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT, OR IS IT?
As we emphasize above, each recession has different causes and different impacts, but one thing that is not different is the required analysis. Whatever the circumstance, investors should look at multiple signals, not just the infamous and often misused inverted yield curve indicator. Our base case is the domestic economy will weather through this current storm of elevated prices, geopolitical risks, and clogged supply chains. Serious risks remain, but we think business and consumer metrics support our base case thesis that the U.S. will not fall into recession this year.
CONSUMERS ARE MUCH LESS LEVERED THIS TIME AROUND
After the Great Financial Crisis, consumers started deleveraging. Both the Debt Service Ratio and the broader Financial Obligations Ratio gradually declined and remained steady until the emergence of COVID-19. Government pandemic assistance programs including stimulus and forbearance periods added volatility to consumers’ financial obligations, but if consumers are able to keep relatively low debt levels, we think the consumer can successfully navigate a period of rising borrowing costs without squelching spending
CHECKABLE DEPOSITS ARE AT HISTORIC LEVELS
High savings will help consumers navigate the current inflationary period. Given the uncertainty of the pandemic and generous stimulus measures, deposits grew to roughly $3 trillion above normal levels.3 During the crisis when the Federal Reserve (Fed) aggressively cut rates and individuals were highly risk averse, the cost of holding checkable deposits was low so individuals tended to increase savings, thereby adding to bank deposits. Aggregate savings were also bolstered by higher income households who normally spend a larger percentage of discretionary income on services – like travel experiences – but were shut down during the pandemic. Accumulated savings provide a cushion for some consumers during this period of high prices and economic uncertainty.
This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that the views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. Any economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and are subject to change.
References to markets, asset classes, and sectors are generally regarding the corresponding market index. Indexes are unmanaged statistical composites and cannot be invested into directly. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment and does not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. All performances referenced are historical and are not guarantee of future results.
Any company names noted herein are for educational purposes only and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services. LPL Financial doesn’t provide research on individual equities. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, LPL Financial makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy.
The U.S. Institute for Supply Managers (ISM) manufacturing index is an economic indicator derived from monthly surveys of private sector companies, and is intended to show the economic health of the U.S. manufacturing sector. A PMI of more than 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector, a reading below 50 indicates contraction, and a reading of 50 indicates no change.
ISM Non-Manufacturing PMI (Services) is based on surveys of more than 400 non-manufacturing firms’ purchasing and supply
All index data from FactSet
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