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Economists push back estimated recession date: NABE

Dive Brief:

  • Economists pushed back their forecast for the start date of a U.S. recession, with 28% predicting that a downturn will begin before April and 33% expecting a slump to start during the second quarter, the National Association for Business Economics found in a survey this month. In a December NABE survey, 52% of economists forecast that a downturn would start this quarter.
  • More than four out of five economists (86%) believe the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge — the core personal consumption expenditures price index excluding food and energy — will persist beyond the central bank’s 2% target until 2024 or later. “Respondents see difficulty for the Fed to lower inflation by the ‘last mile’ to the 2% target,” the NABE said.
  • Fifty-one percent of economists believe the possibility that the Federal Reserve will excessively tighten monetary policy poses the biggest risk to the economy, NABE said, citing the Feb. 3-10 survey.

Dive Insight:

The dip in economists’ pessimism on the outlook for growth reflects a stream of recent data showing signs of vigor across the economy, including persistent high inflation despite the most aggressive Fed tightening in four decades. Core PCE rose to 4.7% in the year through January from an annual pace of 4.4%% in December.

The housing market in January showed some life after months of weakness, with pending home sales surging 8.1% compared with a year earlier in the biggest gain since June 2020, the National Association of Realtors said Monday.

Retail spending rose 3% in January in the biggest monthly gain in nearly two years, and manufacturing output rose 1% after falling in November and December.

Also, unemployment fell last month to 3.4%, the lowest level since 1969, as the U.S. added 517,000 jobs, more than twice the number forecast by economists.

The job market data implies that the Fed may need more time than expected to restore balance in the economy and reduce price pressures, according to Brent Meyer, head of the Economic Survey Research Center at the Atlanta Fed.

“The Fed is trying to realign aggregate supply and aggregate demand,” Meyer said Monday during a NABE webcast. “The latest jobs number just suggests that there’s a bit more strength in there, and it’s going to take a bit more time to close those gaps and realign aggregate demand and aggregate supply.”

Responding to signs of a robust expansion, the Atlanta Fed on Friday marked up its estimate for first quarter gross domestic product growth to 2.7% from 2.5% on Feb. 16.

In contrast, Fannie Mae economists predict the economy will shrink. 0.4% during the first quarter and fall into a “modest recession” during the second quarter.

At the same time, “a series of recent data releases, including a blowout labor report, updated seasonal adjustment factors to the Consumer Price Index that showed the rate of disinflation has been slower than previously thought, and unexpected robustness in retail sales and manufacturing output growth presents substantial “upside risk” to the forecast, Fannie Mae said.on Feb. 21.

Economists’ predictions vary widely for growth, the path for interest rates and the outlook for the labor market and inflation, NABE said Monday in its description of the survey.

“That’s a sign of uncertainty,” Conference Board Chief Economist Dana Peterson said during the NABE webcast. “Many of us don’t really know what’s going on — we’re giving it our best guess we all have our data to back it up — but there’s not a consensus here.”

Many economists have difficulty finding a clear pattern in the volatility of the data, and in forecasting the economic outlook during an unusually rapid and severe increase in borrowing costs, according to David Bowers, managing director at Absolute Strategy Research.

“Most people have never seen a monetary policy tightening of this magnitude,” Bowers said during the NABE webcast. “You have to go back to the late 1970s, early 1980s to see something of this scale.”