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Is there a recession coming?

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Since early this year, many economists and Wall Street pundits have been discussing the possibility of a recession appearing soon in the United States. And, indeed, there are many reasons to think that our country may be about to enter into its first recession since the end of the financial crisis in March 2009.

These pundits point to a lot of different information to back their belief in an upcoming recession. Their first point is the dramatic slowing of growth in Mainland China. China’s growth since the beginning of the 21st century has been enormous; and that expansion created a lot of growth for everyone else.

The use of oil, metals and pretty much every other commodity has fueled growth in emerging markets, developed markets and even frontier markets. Now that China has slowed down, however, everyone else is slowing down, too.

Then there is the debt overhang, affecting the entire developed world, and hanging around the neck of better growth in those nations’ economies. Here in the United States, meanwhile, the Fed is beginning its cycle of tightening our monetary policy.

So, you have a lot of ingredients to make the “recession soup.” Another interesting data point along these lines is the observation that we have been in a recovery now for roughly seven years, which translates to the assumption that we are due for a recession. Many people believe that time is starting to run out on the recovery.

Here at Granite, however, our perspective on economic growth is that there is nothing new in the conversation above and that there is always something on the horizon that could affect U.S. GDP growth.

Our recovery was so weak that it is possible that the economy will resemble more of a Japan-like scenario. A prolonged L-shaped recovery basically describes where the United States is, currently. Unfortunately, thanks to the unprecedented stimuli and regulation, we are at continuous below-trend growth. This is the new economic model for developed nations, and therein lies the problem.

Even if we do eventually go into recession, it should be rather short and shallow, followed by a return to slow growth.

Recessions are defined simply as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. U.S. growth is slow; the manufacturing number for several months has been below 50, indicating contraction. And only non-manufacturing has sustained an above-50 reading. But there are so many monetary cushions out there, like low interest rates and low inflation, that it is hard to see the markets going down in the dramatic fashion they did in 2000–2002 or 2008–2009.

Part of the reason people were thinking recession earlier this year was the downturn in the stock market. That was the kind of event which would fuel investors’ belief in an imminent recession. But with the rebound in March, there is a pause on that perspective.

The message is that we need to look toward economic indicators again. And, as it happens, most of them are showing the same thing they have been for a long time: slow growth, chugging along, but nothing dramatic in one direction or another.

This is what happens when your economy is in uncharted territory, with Keynesian economics running the show. You get low/slow growth and boredom, as well as stagnation. When you limit upside with control, you also limit downside until such time as the dam breaks.

We have been watching the economies of the world very closely. We see a lot of problems born out of the financial crisis, with enormous debt and monetary stimuli. And we also see a lot of nothing in real growth. So even if we do eventually go into recession, it should be rather short and shallow, followed by a return to slow growth.

This article was originally published in the June/July 2016 issue of Worth.

Investing and the Economy

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