Topline: Economists—especially after the stock market took a dive in December—had been warning that a recession was coming, and possibly imminent. But a combination of low-interest rates and an improving labor market has quickly silenced those fears — and complicating the hopes of Donald Trump’s foes in 2020.
- The risk of a recession decreased last week after the Federal Reserve declined to raise interest rates this year, said Brian Rose, senior Americas economist at UBS Global Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Office.
- Combined with a stock market bounce-back and a growing economy, investors are now optimistic — a big shift from earlier this year.
- Major economic predictors showing an increased threat of a recession have scaled back it’s predictions in recent weeks.
- Asterisk: If President Donald Trump escalates the trade conflict with China by adding more tariffs on Chinese imports—particularly auto parts—the economy could suffer, increasing the chances of a recession, Rose said.
Earlier this year, half of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics predicted a recession in 2020. Another poll of economists by the Wall Street Journal in January put the chances of a recession at 25 percent—the highest since 2011.
Coverage piled on (a few examples: “4 Signs Another Recession Is Coming―And What It Means For You,” “A recession is coming, but don’t flee markets yet,” “The Next Recession Is Coming. Now What?”), with many predicting bad news for Trump (Politico: “Trump advisers fear 2020 nightmare: A recession”). Some industries girded for the worst, like online lenders, who tightened its rules to lessen risk.
And then, suddenly, the panic eased. Now Goldman Sachs economists say there is only a 10 percent chance of a recession. What happened?
The biggest factor in that shift came when the Federal Reserve opted not to not raise interest rates, a pleasant surprise to economists. Rose said lower-than-expected inflation led the Fed to keep rates modest.
The economy, too, has grown, allaying recession fears. According to the latest job numbers, the U.S. has the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years.
“It is hard to have a recession when unemployment is this low and interest rates are this low,” Richmond Federal Reserve president Tom Barkin said on Wednesday.
The biggest risk of recession comes from Trump himself. If he increases tariffs on more goods than the $200 billion in Chinese imports he’s already promised, the risk of a recession increases, Rose said. As trade negotiations remain rocky, investors are increasingly concerned.
“Left on it’s own, there’s little risk to the economy,” he said. “The real risk of a recession comes from policy, particularly trade.”
Barring another recession, positive economic growth should mean good news for Trump in 2020. But as it stands, Trump is still relatively unpopular (his approval rating sits at 46 percent, although that is a high for him). And most forecasters agree the economy won’t grow as much as the White House says it will.
“A normal president with these economic numbers would have job approval somewhere in the vicinity of 60%,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told the Los Angeles Times. “But Donald Trump is a nontraditional president, and he has, at least at this point, severed the traditional relationship between economic well-being and presidential job approval.”
Still, a recent CNN poll found that 56 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy. And while many Democrats haven’t focused on the latest job numbers, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who is running for president, tried spinning the numbers a different way during an appearance on CNN, crediting President Obama with job growth.