The Bond Market Folly: Betting on Recession
The bond market is a popular source for investors and analysts when it comes to forecasting market trends. Its ability to provide reliable insights based on the “wisdom of the crowd” and past performances has earned it a near-mythical reputation on Wall Street. However, it’s important to pick your battles with the bond market wisely, as it can also be fickle and make mistakes. Currently, the bond market is pointing towards an imminent recession that will result in a hard stop for the economy, and this is far from accurate. This article explores how betting on a recession is a costly mistake that investors are making and what the economic data is actually showing.
The Markets Expectations
The bond market has been inconsistent with its predictions in the past. Earlier this year, the market predicted that the Federal Reserve would increase interest rates only once this year, by a cumulative 0.25%. However, the market swerved and suggested that the Fed would hike rates four times to slow down activity and inflation as the economy showed signs of stronger growth in January and February. Following the Silicon Valley Bank collapse and concerns about a lending crunch, the bond market reversed its prediction, pricing in three Fed interest rate cuts for a cumulative 0.75% decrease by the end of the year. Two cuts have been implemented, but it is still a remarkable reversal. For this consensus to be accurate, the shakiness in the banking system would need to turn into a full-blown credit crisis that brings about an imminent recession.
Implications of Bond Market’s Incorrect Economic Predictions
Investors and economists concerned with this possibility have pointed to data showing that people are pulling their money from banks, lenders are getting more particular about who they extend loans to, and there’s been a collapse in commercial real-estate valuations. If the economy does indeed sink to 0.4% growth for the entire year, the Fed forecasts a jump in the unemployment rate to 4.5%, which means over 1.6 million people would lose their jobs.
As for markets, this kind of jolt would be particularly jarring. Stocks are pricing in some earnings recovery and a generally strong economy. US indexes are up about 10% over the past six months, while markets in Europe are up even more. If the bond market’s prediction about the economy is correct, there would be a serious and ugly wake-up call for the stock market.
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What the Economy is Showing
The bond market’s outlook is bleak, and it’s important to understand what the actual economic data is saying. Business investment is sluggish, but it hasn’t been much of a growth driver to begin with, and consumer demand is holding steady. In spite of high-profile layoff headlines, the labor market remains historically strong, even as wage growth cools. While a recession cannot be ruled out completely, the time to be most concerned about a recession was last year when residential investment was collapsing, global growth was tumbling, and energy prices were surging. Nowadays, most of the headwinds are abating, and the economy is showing positive signs of continued growth for the US.
The bond market’s view of the economy would probably look like the Fed’s latest GDP projections. The Fed’s outlook expects real GDP to advance just 0.4% this year. However, current estimates put GDP growth for the first quarter of the year at a 2% annualized rate. That means for GDP to sink to 0.4% growth for the entire year, the economy would have to shrink in each of the next three quarters to meet the final estimate. This would result in a sudden stop for the economy and have cascading effects for the labor market and consumers.
Economic Data vs Bond Market: Which to Trust?
Investors who are betting on a recession based on the bond market’s signals are making a costly mistake. While the bond market has a reputation for providing reliable insights, it can also be fickle and inconsistent with its predictions. The actual economic data shows that the economy is showing positive signs of continued growth for the US, and while a recession cannot be ruled out completely, the current outlook is not as bleak as the bond market is suggesting. Investors should be cautious and make their investment decisions based on a thorough analysis of the economic data, rather than relying solely on the bond market’s signals.
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