Thursday September 29th, 2022 6:26AM

EXPLAINER: Recession fears grow. Just how high is the risk?

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Inflation is at a 40-year high. Stock prices are sinking. The Federal Reserve is making borrowing much costlier. And the economy actually shrank in the first three months of this year.

Is the United States at risk of enduring another recession, just two years after emerging from the last one?

For now, most economists don't foresee a downturn in the near future. Despite the inflation squeeze, consumers — the primary driver of the economy — are still spending at a healthy pace. Businesses are investing in equipment and software, reflecting a positive outlook. And the job market is still booming, with hiring strong, layoffs low and many employers eager for more workers.

“Nothing in the U.S. data is currently suggesting a recession is imminent," Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote Tuesday. “Job growth remains strong and households are still spending.

That said, Farooqi cautioned, "the economy faces headwinds."

Among the signs that recession risks are rising: High inflation has proved far more entrenched and persistent than many economists — and the Fed — had expected: Consumer prices rose 8.6% last month from a year earlier, the biggest annual 12-month jump since 1981. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated global food and energy prices. Extreme lockdowns in China over COVID-19 worsened supply shortages.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell has vowed to do whatever it might take to curb inflation, including raising interest rates so high as to weaken the economy. If that happens, the Fed could potentially trigger a recession, perhaps in the second half of next year, economists say.

On Wednesday, the Fed is set to raise its benchmark interest rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, by as much as three-quarter of a percentage point. That would be the Fed's largest rate hike since 1994, and it could herald the start of a period of especially aggressive credit tightening by the central bank — and with it, a higher risk of recession.

Analysts say the U.S. economy, which has thrived for years on the fuel of ultra-low borrowing costs, might not be able to withstand the impact of much higher rates.

The nation's unemployment rate is at a near-half-century low of 3.6%, and employers are posting a near record number of open jobs. So what might cause an economy with such a healthy labor market to suffer a recession?

Here's what the path to an eventual downturn could look like:

— The Fed's rate hikes are sure to slow spending in areas that require consumers to borrow, with housing the most visible example. The average rate on 30-year fixed mortgages topped 5% in April for the first time in a decade and has stayed there since. A year ago, the average was below 3%.

Home sales have fallen in response. And so have mortgage applications, a sign that sales will keep slowing. A similar trend could occur in other markets, for cars, appliances and furniture, for example.

— Borrowing costs for businesses are rising, as reflected in increased yields on corporate bonds. At some point, those higher rates could weaken business investment. If companies pull back on buying new equipment or expanding capacity, they will also start to slow hiring.

— Falling stock prices may discourage affluent households, who collectively hold the bulk of America's stock wealth, from spending as much on vacation travel, home renovations or new appliances. Broad stock indexes have tumbled for five straight weeks. Falling share prices also tend to diminish the ability of corporations to expand.

— Rising caution among companies and consumers about spending freely could further slow hiring or even lead to layoffs. If the economy were to lose jobs and the public were to grow more fearful, consumers would pull back further on spending.

— The consequences of high inflation would worsen this scenario. Wage growth, adjusted for inflation, would slow and leave Americans with even less purchasing power. Though a weaker economy would eventually reduce inflation, until then high prices could hinder consumer spending.

— Eventually, the slowdown would feed on itself, with layoffs mounting as economic growth slowed, leading consumers to increasingly cut back out of concern that they, too, might lose their jobs.

The clearest sign that a recession might be nearing, economists say, would be a steady rise in job losses and a surge in unemployment. As a rule of thumb, an increase in the unemployment rate of three-tenths of a percentage point, on average over the previous three months, has meant that a recession will eventually follow.

Many economists also monitor changes in the interest payments, or yields, on different bonds for a recession signal known as an “inverted yield curve." This occurs when the yield on the 10-year Treasury falls below the yield on a short-term Treasury, such as the 3-month T-bill. That is unusual, because longer-term bonds typically pay investors a richer yield in exchange for tying up their money for a longer period.

Inverted yield curves generally mean that investors foresee a recession and will compel the Fed to slash rates. Inverted curves often predate recessions. Still, it can take as long as 18 or 24 months for the downturn to arrive after the yield curve inverts.

A short-lived inversion occurred Tuesday, when the yield on the two-year Treasury briefly fell below the 10-year yield as it did temporarily in April. Many analysts say, though, that comparing the 3-month yield to the 10-year has a better recession-forecasting track record. Those rates are not inverting now.

Powell has said the Fed's goal was to raise rates to cool borrowing and spending so that companies would reduce their huge number of job openings. In turn, Powell hopes, companies won't have to raise pay as much, thereby easing inflation pressures, but without significant job losses or an outright recession.

“I do expect that this will be very challenging,” Powell said. 'It’s not going to be easy.”

Though economists say it's possible for the Fed to succeed, most now also say they're skeptical that the central bank can tame such high inflation without eventually derailing the economy.

Deutsche Bank economists think the Fed will have to raise its key rate to at least 3.6% by mid-2023, enough to cause a recession by the end of that year.

Still, many economists say any recession would likely be mild. American families are in much better financial shape than they were before the extended 2008-2009 Great Recession, when plunging home prices and lost jobs ruined many households' finances.


AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Financial Services
© Copyright 2022
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Quinn, a 57-year-old dad, earns US Open start close to home
Fran Quinn knew his odds of making the U.S. Open weren’t great
1:42PM ( 3 minutes ago )
Apple, MLS announce 10-year streaming partnership
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced a 10-year partnership on a streaming service that will allow fans to watch every game without local blackouts or restrictions
1:42PM ( 3 minutes ago )
US Open lets Russian tennis players in after Wimbledon ban
The U.S. Open will allow tennis players from Russia and Belarus to compete this year despite the ongoing war in Ukraine
1:37PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Biden focuses on workers as high inflation remains a risk
President Joe Biden has told the largest federation of labor unions that he’s rebuilding the U.S. economy around workers
1:08PM ( 37 minutes ago )
The S&P 500 is in a bear market; here’s what that means
Wall Street opened the week with heavy losses that put the benchmark S&P 500 at a level considered to be a so-called bear market
12:52PM ( 53 minutes ago )
Biden to visit 'pariah' Saudi Arabia and Israel next month
President Joe Biden will make his first trip to the Middle East next month with visits to Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia
12:49PM ( 57 minutes ago )
AP Business
Clyburn: US failed to stop fraud in COVID-19 loan programs
The head of a congressional panel says the U.S. government failed to take basic steps at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to prevent fraud in a federal aid program intended to help small businesses
12:01PM ( 1 hour ago )
US stocks open higher a day after falling into bear market
Stocks are edging higher in early trading on Wall Street Tuesday, finding some stability a day after dropping into a bear market
9:44AM ( 4 hours ago )
US producer prices soar 10.8% in May as energy costs spike
U.S. producer prices surged 10.8% in May from a year earlier, underscoring the ongoing threat to the economy from a bout of inflation that shows no sign of slowing
9:17AM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
Treasury bond yield inversion raises worries over recession
One of the more reliable warning signals for an economic recession is shining alarmingly brighter
1:13AM ( 12 hours ago )
The S&P 500 is a bear market; here’s what that means
Wall Street is back in the claws of a bear market as worries about inflation and higher interest rates overwhelm investors
5:00PM ( 20 hours ago )
Wall Street enters a bear market as the S&P 500 dives 3.9%
Wall Street entered a bear market Monday as the S&P 500 sank 3.9%, bringing it more than 20% below the record high it set in January
4:13PM ( 21 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
Stock declines signal a bear market; here’s what that means
Wall Street is opening the week with more losses, and the S&P 500 has fallen to a level that market observers consider to be a bear market
10:00AM ( 1 day ago )
Stocks slump on Wall Street, moving closer to a bear market
Stocks are opening sharply lower on Wall Street as inflation worries mount, pushing the S&P 500 closer to a bear market decline of 20% from the peak it reached early this year
9:45AM ( 1 day ago )
Inflation roils global markets, S&P points to bear territory
U.S. markets are tumbling before the opening bell with the S&P 500 hinting at bear territory amid seeping pessimism over stubborn, four-decade high inflation
8:01AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Financial Services
Apple, MLS announce 10-year streaming partnership
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced a 10-year partnership on a streaming service that will allow fans to watch every game without local blackouts or restrictions
1:42PM ( 3 minutes ago )
Russians control 80% of key Ukraine city, cut escape routes
A governor says Russian forces control about 80% of the city of Sievierodonetsk — the main focus of the war now in eastern Ukraine
1:31PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Flooding pummels Yellowstone region, leaves many stranded
Raging floodwaters that pulled houses into rivers and forced rescues by air and boat across the Yellowstone region have begun to recede
1:27PM ( 19 minutes ago )
FDA advisers consider Moderna's COVID shots for older kids
A government advisory panel is meeting to decide whether to recommend a second brand of COVID-19 vaccine for school-age children and teens
1:25PM ( 20 minutes ago )
US failed to stop fraud in COVID loan program, Clyburn says
The head of a congressional panel says the U.S. government failed to take basic steps at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to prevent fraud in a federal aid program intended to help small businesses
1:20PM ( 25 minutes ago )