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.