Economists Now Expect a Recession, Job Losses by Next Year
Majority think Federal Reserve will start cutting rates in late 2023 or early 2024
Majority think Federal Reserve will start cutting rates in late 2023 or early 2024
The U.S. is forecast to enter a recession in the coming 12 months as the Federal Reserve battles to bring down persistently high inflation, the economy contracts and employers cut jobs in response, according to The Wall Street Journal’s latest survey of economists.
On average, economists put the probability of a recession in the next 12 months at 63%, up from 49% in July’s survey. It is the first time the survey pegged the probability above 50% since July 2020, in the wake of the last short but sharp recession.
Their forecasts for 2023 are increasingly gloomy. Economists now expect gross domestic product to contract in the first two quarters of the year, a downgrade from the last quarterly survey, whereby they penciled in mild growth.
On average, the economists now predict GDP will contract at a 0.2% annual rate in the first quarter of 2023 and shrink 0.1% in the second quarter. In July’s survey, they expected a 0.8% growth rate in the first quarter and 1% growth in the second.
Employers are expected to respond to lower growth and weaker profits by cutting jobs in the second and third quarters. Economists believe that non farm payrolls will decline by 34,000 a month on average in the second quarter and 38,000 in the third quarter. According to the last survey, they expected employers to add about 65,000 jobs a month in those two quarters.
Forecasters have ratcheted up their expectations for a recession because they increasingly doubt the Fed can keep raising rates to cool inflation without inducing higher unemployment and an economic downturn. Some 58.9% of economists said they think the Fed will raise interest rates too much and cause unnecessary economic weakness, up from 45.6% in July.
“‘Soft landing’ will likely remain a mythical outcome that never actually comes to pass,” said Daniil Manaenkov, an economist at the University of Michigan. A soft landing occurs when the Fed tightens monetary policy enough to reduce inflation, but without causing a recession.
“The coming drag from higher rates and stronger dollar is enormous and will knock off about 2.5 percentage points from next year’s GDP” growth, said Aneta Markowska, chief economist at Jefferies LLC. “In light of this, it’s hard to imagine how the U.S. can avoid a recession.”
Economists’ average forecasts suggest that they expect a recession to be relatively short-lived. Of the economists who see a greater than 50% chance of a recession in the next year, their average expectation for the length of a recession was eight months. The average postwar recession lasted 10.2 months.
For the year as a whole, they expect the economy to grow 0.4% in 2023, through the fourth quarter compared with the fourth quarter of the prior year. In 2024, they see the economy growing 1.8%.
Still, forecasters expect the labor market to weaken in the months and years ahead. They predict the unemployment rate, which was 3.5% in September, will rise to 3.7% in December and 4.3% in June 2023. Economists’ average forecast for the jobless rate at the end of next year is 4.7%, and they expect it to stay broadly at that level through 2024. While a 4.7% unemployment rate is low by historical comparison and indicative of the current worker shortage, it suggests that the Fed’s efforts to bring down inflation will inflict some pain on workers.
“The Federal Reserve is choosing between the lesser of two evils—take a recession with a rise in unemployment today or risk a more corrosive and entrenched inflation taking root,” said Diane Swonk of KPMG. “The risks of a misstep are large given the sins that low rates likely papered over,” she added.
The past few years have been volatile for the U.S. economy as it faced shocks including the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2019, before the pandemic hit, the economy grew 2.6%. GDP contracted 1.5% in 2020 and bounced back strongly in 2021, posting 5.7% growth. This year, as consumers and businesses grapple with high inflation and supply-chain issues, economists expect the economy to eke out growth of just 0.2%.
Interest-rate increases by the Fed are expected to further slow demand for housing next year. Economists expect home prices to decline 2.2% in 2023, measured by the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency’s seasonally adjusted purchase-only house price index. That would mark the first such decline since 2011.
The Fed has raised its benchmark federal-funds rate by 0.75 point at each of its last three meetings, most recently in September, bringing the rate to a range of 3% to 3.25%. Another uncomfortably high inflation reading for September is likely to keep the Federal Reserve on track to increase interest rates by 0.75 percentage point at its meeting next month.
Economists on average expect the Fed to lift the federal-funds rate to 4.267% in December, which implies at least one more increase of 0.5 point that month. They see the federal-funds rate peaking at 4.551% in June next year.
Most economists expect that the Fed will eventually have to reverse course and start cutting rates late next year or in early 2024. Some 30% of economists expect the central bank to lower rates in the fourth quarter of 2023, and 28.3% expect the next rate cut in the first quarter of 2024.
The survey of 66 economists was conducted Oct. 7 to 11. Not every economist answered every question.
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
Crypto’s lack of connections with traditional finance means its problems haven’t spilled over to the economy
This year’s crypto collapse has all the hallmarks of a classic banking crisis: runs, fire sales, contagion.
What it doesn’t have are banks.
Check out the bankruptcy filings of crypto platforms Voyager Digital Holdings Inc., Celsius Network LLC and FTX Trading Ltd. and hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, and you won’t find any banks listed among their largest creditors.
While bankruptcy filings aren’t entirely clear, they describe many of the largest creditors as customers or other crypto-related companies. Crypto companies, in other words, operate in a closed loop, deeply interconnected within that loop but with few apparent connections of significance to traditional finance. This explains how an asset class once worth roughly $3 trillion could lose 72% of its value, and prominent intermediaries could go bust, with no discernible spillovers to the financial system.
“Crypto space…is largely circular,” Yale University economist Gary Gorton and University of Michigan law professor Jeffery Zhang write in a forthcoming paper. “Once crypto banks obtain deposits from investors, these firms borrow, lend, and trade with themselves. They do not interact with firms connected to the real economy.”
A few years from now, things might have been different, given the intensifying pressure on regulators and bankers to embrace crypto. The crypto meltdown may have prevented that—and a much wider crisis.
Crypto has long been marketed as an unregulated, anonymous, frictionless, more accessible alternative to traditional banks and currencies. Yet its mushrooming ecosystem looks a lot like the banking system, accepting deposits and making loans. Messrs. Gorton and Zhang write, “Crypto lending platforms recreated banking all over again… if an entity engages in borrowing and lending, it is economically equivalent to a bank even if it’s not labeled as one.”
And just like the banking system, crypto is leveraged and interconnected, and thus vulnerable to debilitating runs and contagion. This year’s crisis began in May when TerraUSD, a purported stablecoin—i.e., a cryptocurrency that aimed to sustain a constant value against the dollar—collapsed as investors lost faith in its backing asset, a token called Luna. Rumours that Celsius had lost money on Terra and Luna led to a run on its deposits and in July Celsius filed for bankruptcy protection.
Three Arrows, a crypto hedge fund that had invested in Luna, had to liquidate. Losses on a loan to Three Arrows and contagion from Celsius forced Voyager into bankruptcy protection.
Meanwhile FTX’s trading affiliate Alameda Research and Voyager had lent to each other, and Alameda and Celsius also had exposure to each other. But it was the linkages between FTX and Alameda that were the two companies’ undoing. Like many platforms, FTX issued its own cryptocurrency, FTT. After this was revealed to be Alameda’s main asset, Binance, another major platform, said it would dump its own FTT holdings, setting off the run that triggered FTX’s collapse.
Genesis Global Capital, another crypto lender, had exposure to both Three Arrows and Alameda. It has suspended withdrawals and sought outside cash in the wake of FTX’s demise. BlockFi, another crypto lender with exposure to FTX and Alameda, is preparing a bankruptcy filing, the Journal has reported.
The density of connections between these players is nicely illustrated with a sprawling diagram in an October report by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which brings together federal financial regulators.
To historians, this litany of contagion and collapse is reminiscent of the free banking era from 1837 to 1863 when banks issued their own bank notes, fraud proliferated, and runs, suspensions of withdrawals, and panics occurred regularly. Yet while those crises routinely walloped business activity, crypto’s has largely passed the economy by.
Some investors, from unsophisticated individuals to big venture-capital and pension funds, have sustained losses, some life-changing. But these are qualitatively different from the sorts of losses that threaten the solvency of major lending institutions and the broader financial system’s stability.
To be sure, some loan or investment losses by banks can’t be ruled out. Banks also supply crypto companies with custodial and payment services and hold their cash, such as to back stablecoins. Some small banks that cater to crypto companies have been buffeted by large outflows of deposits.
Traditional finance had little incentive to build connections to crypto because, unlike government bonds or mortgages or commercial loans or even derivatives, crypto played no role in the real economy. It’s largely been shunned as a means of payment except where untraceability is paramount, such as money laundering and ransomware. Much-hyped crypto innovations such as stablecoins and DeFi, a sort of automated exchange, mostly facilitate speculation in crypto rather than useful economic activity.
Crypto’s grubby reputation repelled mainstream financiers like Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, and made regulators deeply skittish about bank involvement. In time this was bound to change, not because crypto was becoming useful but because it was generating so much profit for speculators and their supporting ecosystem.
Several banks have made private-equity investments in crypto companies and many including J.P. Morgan are investing in blockchain, the distributed ledger technology underlying cryptocurrencies. A flood of crypto lobbying money was prodding Congress to create a regulatory framework under which crypto, having failed as an alternative to the dollar, could become a riskier, less regulated alternative to equities.
Now, stained by bankruptcy and scandal, cryptocurrency will have to wait longer—perhaps forever—to be fully embraced by traditional banking. An end to banking crises required the replacement of private currencies with a single national dollar, the creation of the Federal Reserve as lender of last resort, deposit insurance and comprehensive regulation.
It isn’t clear, though, that the same recipe should be applied to crypto: Effective regulation would eliminate much of the efficiency and anonymity that explain its appeal. And while the U.S. economy clearly needed a stable banking system and currency, it will do just fine without crypto.
Becoming Australia’s most expensive property sale of 2021.