The Big Joke About Recession…
Last week, I got a huge laugh out of a chyron CNBC ran during Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s press conference.
After announcing and explaining the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates by 75 basis points, Powell was answering press questions about the state of the economy.
I looked down to take a bite of my sandwich, and then looked back up… to see this:
Y’all. I nearly choked on my lettuce.
It reads like Powell is frustrated — nay, upset — with how well the economy is performing. I pictured him whispering to himself with irritation, “TOO MANY areas of the economy are performing well. Gah!”
Maybe I’m the only one who thinks it’s funny. I do have twin babies. Maybe I just need more sleep.
However, I think it’s undeniable that there’s some comedy to it. Like most jokes, the humor comes from the context — or in this case, the lack thereof.
In reality, Powell wasn’t up on stage grumbling with disappointment about how GREAT things are. He was explaining why he doesn’t believe the U.S. economy is necessarily heading toward (or currently in) a recession. One of the reasons he gave was that too many areas of the economy are performing well.
And that’s the key point CNBC’s chyron writer decided to highlight. (Much to my enjoyment. Even now, I can’t see this without getting the giggles. It’s just too funny to think about!)
Okay, let me take a minute to wipe the tear from my eye, and we can get on to the larger point. And that is the importance of context.
Take the hot topic du jour: Are we in a recession or not?
If we’re going by the popular definition of “two consecutive quarters of declining gross domestic product (GDP),” then, yep, we’re in a recession.
However, as Powell (hilariously) pointed out, too many areas of the economy are performing well — something that doesn’t really jive with the idea that we’re in a recession. The U.S. unemployment rate has also fallen from 3.9% to 3.6% since the beginning of the year — something else that doesn’t go well with periods of economic decline.
Yes, many areas of the economy are doing well. And yes, the labor market is strong. We’re even seeing some wage growth.
But I think we’re missing some key context here…
And in this case, context is spelled I-N-F-L-A-T-I-O-N.
Inflation is at its highest level in four decades. And as anyone doing the grocery shopping or paying the bills for their household will tell you, all that “wage growth” doesn’t do a lick of good when the cost of everything else is climbing faster.
When inflation is outpacing wage growth, we’re essentially dealing with a wage cut.
And if we don’t get inflation under control soon, we might see a crack in those strong employment numbers. You see, with the Fed raising interest rates (making it more expensive to borrow money) and inflation raising the costs of goods (making it more expensive to produce anything), many businesses are about to get squeezed. We’ve already seen a number of big tech companies issue hiring freezes and lay off people by the thousand. (And don’t forget, employment is a lagging indicator; there’s a chance we won’t see employment numbers turn sour until it’s too late.)
I’ve also heard a few people point to the recent rally as evidence that we’re not in a recession. But I believe much of this rally has been due to the assumption that the Federal Reserve is going to ease up on future rate increases.
And I have no clue where that idea came from.
You see, I watched Powell’s press conference (and got a big chuckle from that chyron), and my takeaway was that the Federal Reserve is very focused on bringing inflation back down to 2%.
As a reminder, after two 75-point increases this year, inflation is still sitting pretty at 9.1%.
In his statement, Powell said they would be “looking for compelling evidence that inflation is moving down” and he anticipates “ongoing increases” in the federal funds rate. And while he didn’t rule out a smaller increase in September, he also said that another “unusually large increase” could be appropriate. The decisions will be made based on the ongoing data.
When Powell talked about the Federal Reserve’s mission to push inflation back down to 2%, he used words like “will not relent,” “resolve,” “strongly committed,” and “determined to take the measures necessary.”
This doesn’t sound like a dovish shift to me. And while I don’t know if we’ll look back at all this and realize we were or weren’t in a recession… I’m 100% confident investors are going to be disappointed if Powell follows through on that language and continues his restrictive policy plan.
The good news is that I am still seeing opportunities in individual stocks. And now that more stocks have reported earnings, we can actually trade them in Income Trader.
This week, I’m recommending a trade in United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) that gives us extra protection in the form of technical support. The stock is also on an ITV “buy” signal.
UPS is up with the rest of the market, and recently broke above a long-term resistance level around $190 and now appears to be forming a bull flag pattern, which usually happens before another move upward.
Even if shares fall below $190, they’ll still have to get past support at $180 before they come close to reaching our strike price. That doesn’t seem likely since the stock failed to break that level even after its tepid July 26 earnings report where the company reported lower-than-expected delivery volumes in the second quarter.
Even so, UPS was still able to beat earnings and revenue predictions thanks to price hikes and fuel surcharges. In fact, the company’s ability to rapidly adjust its pricing is what makes it a low-risk trade in the current environment.