CEO Panic: Almost Half Say U.S. Could Be in a Recession by End of December

JOPLIN, MO - MAY 27: A torn American flag hangs on a pole outside of a house that was damaged during a massive tornado on May 27, 2011 in Joplin, Missouri. At least 125 were killed and 232 remain missing after the EF-5 tornado ripped through the town of about …

America’s elites are in a recession panic.

A survey of 134 American chief executive officers was conducted during last week’s Yale CEO Summit in New York, according to the New York Times. Nearly half said that the economy could enter a recession by the end of the month.

That is a stunning level of negativity given that all data show the U.S. economy is still expanding. Even the Empire State Manufacturing Survey, which came in disappointingly weak on Monday, still shows that manufacturing in New York is expanding, just at a slower pace.

The Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now, a real-time estimate of GDP based on the latest economic figures, sees fourth-quarter GDP growing at a 3 percent rate. The New York Fed’s Nowcast sees it growing at a 2.4 percent rate. Those are down from the third quarter, when the economy expanded at a 3.5 percent rate, but still far from anything suggesting a recession is about to strike.

Keep in mind that a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Given that there are only about two weeks left in the fourth quarter, it is all-but-impossible that we will subsequently learn that the economy had already been contracting. Economic figures get revised up and down but this would require revisions of enormous proportions. Even if the Fed shocked the market this week by hiking rates up a full percentage point–rather than the one-quarter of a point expected–the hike would slow the economy next quarter or the quarter after that. It wouldn’t retroactively repeal the growth of October and November.

A separate survey of CEOs released Monday also showed confidence in the economy has fallen sharply. According to the CEO Group:

In our most recent monthly poll of 236 U.S. CEOs, scaled on a rating of 1-10, the downward trend in CEO confidence in conditions one year from now accelerated sharply, ending the year at with a rating of 6.4 out of 10. That’s a month-over-month drop of 7% versus November, 16% since the start of the year and 13% year-over-year.

CEO confidence in current business conditions also declined again in December, down 7% month-over-month to 7.2 out of 10. That level is 3% lower than the same time last year and 8% below its February peak.

So what has CEOs so glum? It is likely the stock market. CEOs of big public companies are judged by the performance of their stocks and often their compensation depends on investor gains. With the stocks of many companies deeply in negative territory for the year, and the major indexes barely hanging on to tiny gains, it may feel like we already are in a recession if you are a CEO.

The c-suites are a pretty grim place right now. In addition to the panicked CEOs, the chief financial officers are also convinced doom looms just around the corner. A recent survey found nearly half think we’ll be in a recession by end of next year and 80 percent think we’ll have entered one by the end of 2020.



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