As it happens, I received identical criticism of my recession concerns in May 2008, when the S&P 500 briefly rose above its level of 6 months earlier, and credit spreads briefly retreated from their levels of 6 months earlier, leading to suggestions that even our own recession evidence had “turned.” At the time, the Fed was easing, Congress had passed an economic “stimulus” in the form of tax rebates, economic reports were coming in tepid but ahead of expectations, and any concern about recession was viewed with disdain. The S&P 500 had advanced about 12% over a period of about 10 weeks, and was only about 8% below its 2007 peak, having recovered much of what was (in hindsight) the initial bear market selloff. This was the most recent example of the “exhaustion syndrome” that emerged again last week (see Warning: Goat Rodeo ).
At the highs of that May 2008 advance, I observed “The reality is that as recessions develop (and I continue to believe the U.S. faces a much more significant downturn than we’ve observed to date), the data can take months to accumulate to a compelling verdict, and in the meantime, speculative pressures can remain alive” (see Poor Fundamentals with Borderline Market Action ). A few weeks later, the surreal calm in the face of seemingly obvious risks prompted the title of my June 2, 2008 weekly comment – Wall Street Decides to Close its Ears and Hum , where I noted “investors appear to be viewing the recent period of weak but not terrible economic news as a signal that the worst is behind us and that clear conditions are ahead.” Memorably, that was not the case.
Though I don’t expect a 2008-type collapse here, I would view a 25% market decline as only run-of-the-mill. I don’t view the probability of recession as 100%, but the leading evidence continues to indicate recession as the most likely probability. While we track a very broad set of data, a crude but useful rule of thumb is that the combination of a) an upturn in the OECD leading indicators (U.S. and total world), coupled with b) a turn to positive growth in the ECRI weekly leading index, has generally been a good sign that recession risk is receding. Those shifts can occur fairly quickly, but we don’t observe them at present.