Haver Analytics
Haver Analytics
| May 01 2023

Rebound in Cyclical Sectors and Profit Data Run Counter to Recession Forecasts

In Q1, the combined output of the cyclically sensitive motor vehicles and residential housing sectors expanded by 1.3% annualized, slightly better than the 1.1% growth for the overall economy and the first quarterly gain since late 2021. Also, the Q1 data shows that operating profits gained sequentially quarter over quarter and year over year. The rebound in cyclically sensitive sectors and profit data run counter to the recession forecasts. All economic recessions have standard features; declines in cyclically-sensitive sectors and drops in operating profits. Those features are missing at this time.

S&P purchasing managers manufacturing index rose over one percentage point to 50.2 in April. That’s the highest level in six months, driven by new orders, production, and employment gains. Thus, the rebound in cyclically sensitive sectors has continued into Q2.

Recessions forecasts are linked primarily to the inverted yield curve and the decline in the leading indicators. Questions over the accuracy of the signal from the inverted curve stem from the Fed's new policy tool, quantitative easing (QE). Since the Fed now actively purchases substantial quantities of long-duration fixed assets to keep a lid, or even depressing, on long-term interest rates, how can the yield curve signal be as reliable as in prior periods?

History shows that lower long-term borrowing costs often lead to faster growth in cyclically-sensitive sectors. The yield on the 10-year Treasury has declined 75 basis points in the past six months, and cyclically sensitive sectors have rebounded. Is that a coincidence, or are they interrelated? If the latter, the recessionary signal from the inverted yield curve is wrong. It’s the latter.

The leading economic index, which has declined sharply over the past year, triggering fears of recession, includes the yield curve. Yield curve inversion has been a significant factor in the decline of the aggregate index over the past year. Yet, is the yield curve still a reliable leading indicator with the creation of QE?

It’s common for the index composition to change from one cycle to the next because economic, financial, or policy changes make some indicators less reliable or obsolete. Broad money failed as an indicator before the Great Financial Recession. A new credit series replaced it in 2012. It will not be surprising if the leading index includes a QE series and removes the yield curve indicator at some point.

It’s worth noting the 2020 recession was unique from the standpoint non-economic factors triggered it. Yet, the monetary and fiscal policymakers viewed it as a vast economic disaster, rightly so, and responded with the most significant monetary and fiscal stimulus ever seen. Doubling the Fed's balance sheet from $4 trillion to over $8 trillion in 18 months was never done before, and we still need to learn all the economic and financial consequences. At the very least, the aggregate stimulus and new ways of interjecting liquidity in the system raise questions over long-trusted indicators such as the yield curve and broad money.

Investors should keep it simple; the economy is growing if companies generate profits and hire.

  • Joseph G. Carson, Former Director of Global Economic Research, Alliance Bernstein.   Joseph G. Carson joined Alliance Bernstein in 2001. He oversaw the Economic Analysis team for Alliance Bernstein Fixed Income and has primary responsibility for the economic and interest-rate analysis of the US. Previously, Carson was chief economist of the Americas for UBS Warburg, where he was primarily responsible for forecasting the US economy and interest rates. From 1996 to 1999, he was chief US economist at Deutsche Bank. While there, Carson was named to the Institutional Investor All-Star Team for Fixed Income and ranked as one of Best Analysts and Economists by The Global Investor Fixed Income Survey. He began his professional career in 1977 as a staff economist for the chief economist’s office in the US Department of Commerce, where he was designated the department’s representative at the Council on Wage and Price Stability during President Carter’s voluntary wage and price guidelines program. In 1979, Carson joined General Motors as an analyst. He held a variety of roles at GM, including chief forecaster for North America and chief analyst in charge of production recommendations for the Truck Group. From 1981 to 1986, Carson served as vice president and senior economist for the Capital Markets Economics Group at Merrill Lynch. In 1986, he joined Chemical Bank; he later became its chief economist. From 1992 to 1996, Carson served as chief economist at Dean Witter, where he sat on the investment-policy and stock-selection committees.   He received his BA and MA from Youngstown State University and did his PhD coursework at George Washington University. Honorary Doctorate Degree, Business Administration Youngstown State University 2016. Location: New York.

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