Headline Spin — Recession Forecasting is Back!

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Investors have learned from both data and personal experience that business cycle peaks (popularly known as recessions) are associated with the most important stock declines. It is natural that any news about a possible recession gets extra attention. There are so many sentiment measures – surveys of different populations, including non-investors – that it is easy to find one that supports any viewpoint.

Since I have recently spoken with several intelligent, but worried investors, my own conclusion is that market worries and Trump angst are at a high point. Consider some evidence. Here is the headline page from a reputable source for professional managers.



The array of front page stories has nothing positive about U.S. equities. Here is a front-page story running yesterday on a social media page.


When you actually read the article, you cannot even find the “R” word! Economist Adam Posen, President of the Peterson Institute, is actually writing about an excessive boom (not mentioned in the headline) which would lead to the inevitable bust when the Fed over-reacts. Briefly put, he expects greater amplitude in business cycle, mostly because of deficits which his organization opposes. Posen has no record of successfully predicting recession. More importantly, his near-term prediction is for a boom.

Why the negative headline, with a worried trader looking at a declining chart?

Here is the next case, sent to me by a reader.

Fed rate hikes + low growth = recession, says stock-market strategist


This article reproduces an almost indecipherable chart that references three recessions in all of history that began after a Fed rate increase when economic growth was low. Of course, the article does not explain it that way. It seems inevitable. The author, a non-economist with no proven record of recession forecasting, does not even make these claims in his original post.

If it has historically taken 11 quarters to go fall from an economic growth rate of 3% into recession, then it will take just 2/3rds of that time at a rate of 2%, or 6 to 8 quarters at best. This is historically consistent with previous economic cycles, as shown in the table to the left, that suggests there is much less wiggle room between the first rate hike and the next recession than currently believed.

I hope the error in this pseudo-math is obvious to my astute readers.

And here is the conclusion, after explaining that all Fed rate-rising periods eventually lead to bear markets:

For now, the bullish trend is still in place and should be “consciously” honored. However, while it may seem that nothing can stop the markets current rise, it is crucial to remember that it is “only like this, until it is like that.” For those “asleep at the wheel,”there will be a heavy price to pay when the taillights turn red.

So to be clear, the author is bullish for the moment, but giving a warning. I guess he will be right either way.

And meanwhile, how does this recommendation compare to the headline in the original article – the one predicting a recession?

Is there another side to this?

If so, it must be infrequent and obscure. I invite readers to send examples. This cannot just be a bullish story with evidence, since that is not spinning. You need to find a bullish headline that is not supported by the underlying facts.


Why the disparity? The truth about recession chances – that we are almost certainly OK for the next year or so – is not an exciting story. Journalists never ask about the record or credentials of sources on technical stories.

Investor Protection

There are two ways investors can protect themselves:

  1. Plow through the entire story, the supporting links, and the bio for the original source. (That is what I do, of course). It helps to know how to spot real experts.
  2. Just ignore these stories – especially when the interview subject is not presented as holding specific and relevant skills and experience. This method will save a lot of time – and also plenty of money!

Actionable Investment Advice

The main educational theme is more significant and potentially profitable than any specific stock recommendation. For those needing a little help in following it through, late stage cyclicals, financials, and technology are all good choices. Bonds and utilities are not.

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