Aug 15, 2019

The synchronized global slump

Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

It was 20 months ago that we told you about the highly unusual dynamic of synchronized global growth — the world’s 10 biggest economies growing at once.

The state of play: Now, we seem headed for the Synchronized Slump — and we had the rise of inward-looking, finger-pointing nationalism in relatively good times. Imagine the world as things go south.

Global economic data has consistently worsened this year:

  • Japan and three of Europe's four largest economies — Germany, Italy and the U.K. — are heading toward recession by year-end, with China growing at its slowest pace in 27 years.
  • The IMF cut its global growth forecast again last month after warning in April that this was a "delicate moment" for the world.
  • Today's N.Y. Times lead: "Markets Shudder as Signs Point to Global Slowdown ... Trade War Dims Outlook in Germany, China and U.S."

Signs of a looming U.S. recession abound:

Why it matters: These inversions have preceded every U.S. recession of the last 70 years.

Other warning signs: 

  • U.S. manufacturing is in recession, as is transportation across all sectors — air, rail, freight and passenger. 
  • Airlines are expecting their worst year since 2014, and the auto industry has laid off more people than it has in a decade.
  • A growing number of businesses are citing "greater risk aversion," largely because of tariffs, as a reason for not making more purchases or investments.
  • Economists say Trump's policies have introduced a real risk of stoking inflation — absent for more than a decade — as retailers large and small say the tariffs will force them to raise prices.

Why things could get worse: The levers that have saved the economy in previous times of crisis look exhausted.

  • Central bankers around the world are cutting interest rates at a level not seen since the financial crisis — but studies show that monetary policy is not as powerful as it once was.
  • The world is already deeply in debt — and democratic institutions are extremely polarized — making government spending more difficult as well.

Reality check: The U.S. economy is still like a "choose-your-own-adventure" game, with plenty of other data points saying the economy is in fine shape. 

  • Consumer spending — responsible for two-thirds of economic growth — is still strong, and consumers haven't expressed the same dip in confidence that businesses have. 
  • The economy has added jobs for 106 consecutive months.
  • Unemployment is near a 50-year low. 

The bottom line: A recession is always coming — it's just that no one knows when. And the mere fear of recession is just as likely to push the economy into a recession as anything else.

Go deeper: Stocks plummet on fears of recession

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Shrinking German economy signals danger for global financial health

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Dow's 800-point fall grabbed headlines, but the real warning about the global economy's dire health comes from Europe. The German economy shrank in the second quarter, showing negative growth for the second time in 4 quarters.

Why it matters: Germany is being decimated by the global downturn in manufacturing and trade that has weighed extensively on major exporting countries. The downturn is likely coming for other economies as well, experts say.

Go deeperArrowAug 15, 2019

Trump dismisses economy concerns: I don't see a recession

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump joined his top White House economic advisers in downplaying concerns that the U.S. is heading for a recession, telling reporters on Sunday: "I don't see a recession."

Why it matters: The stock market saw a huge sell-off last week after the yield curve inversion, a warning sign that's predated every recession for the past 50 years.

Go deeperArrowAug 19, 2019

Markets provide an unambiguous signal that investors expect recession

Data: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

There had been debate among economists and fund managers about the importance of previous yield curve inversions, but Tuesday’s market action provided an unambiguous signal that investors are expecting a recession.

Driving the news: The U.S. Treasury yield curve completely inverted Tuesday, with 1-, 2- and 3-month Treasury bills all paying higher interest rates than 30-year Treasury bonds.

Go deeperArrowAug 28, 2019