/institutional/perspectives/macroeconomic-research/forecasting-the-next-recession

Forecasting the Next Recession

Our new analytical tools point to a high probability that the next recession will start in late 2019 to early 2020.

November 29, 2017


Read our latest update to find out how our recession forecast is evolving.

Guggenheim’s Model Points to Recession in Late 2019 or 2020

The business cycle is one of the most important drivers of investment performance. As the nearby chart shows, recessions lead to outsized moves across asset markets. It is therefore critical for investors to have a well-informed view on the business cycle so portfolio allocations can be adjusted accordingly. At this stage, with the current U.S. expansion showing signs of aging, our focus is on projecting the timing of the next downturn.

Predicting recessions well in advance is notoriously difficult. Using history as a guide, however, we find that it may be possible to get an early read on when the next recession will begin by analyzing the late-cycle behavior of several key economic and market indicators. Together, they would have provided advance warnings of a downturn. Our analysis of these metrics suggests that the current expansion will end as soon as late 2019.


Video

Scott Minerd and Brian Smedley provide context and commentary to “Forecasting the Next Recession.”


Recession Report Summary

  • It is critical for investors to have a well-informed view on the timing of the business cycle because of its importance as a driver of investment performance.
  • Our Recession Dashboard includes six leading indicators that exhibit consistent cyclical behavior ahead of a recession—and can be tracked in real time.
  • Based on the dashboard and our proprietary Recession Probability Model, which shows 24-, 12-, and six-month ahead recession probabilities, we believe the next recession will begin in late 2019 to early-2020.
  • Risk assets tend to perform well two years out from a recession, but investors should become increasingly defensive in the final year of an expansion.

Recessions Lead to Outsized Market Moves

Treasury Rally/S&P 500 Drawdown from Trailing 12-Month Low/High

Recessions Lead to Outsized Market Moves

Source: Haver Analytics, U.S. Treasury Department, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 10.20.2017. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Identifying Common Late-Cycle Symptoms

Economists, including those at the Federal Reserve (Fed), are fond of saying that business cycles do not die of old age. Rather, they tend to point to policy mistakes, bursting asset bubbles, or other shocks as recession catalysts. We think this conventional wisdom misses an essential point, which is that as a business cycle ages it becomes increasingly vulnerable to these life-threatening conditions. Indeed, history shows that economic cycles exhibit fairly consistent symptoms leading up to a recession, starting with a labor market that evolves from cool to hot and a monetary policy stance that progresses from loose to tight in response. That is not to say the Fed deliberately causes recessions. Rather, an overheating labor market makes the Fed nervous about the inflation outlook, resulting in a degree of policy tightening that flattens the yield curve and begins to slow the economy. Softening growth in demand results in a decline in the pace of net job creation and a pullback in business investment and consumer spending. Credit conditions tighten and asset valuations drop, typically from cycle highs. This combination of events is often sufficient to tip an overextended economy into recession.

The last several expansions have shown similar patterns leading up to a recession. The charts below help to tell this story by identifying six indicators that would have exhibited consistent cyclical behavior, and that can be tracked relatively well in real time. We compare these indicators during the last five cycles that are similar in length to the current one, overlaying the current cycle. Taken together, they suggest that the expansion still has room to run for approximately 24 months. At the end of this report, we assemble the six indicators into our single-page Recession Dashboard, which we will update regularly going forward.

1. Labor Market Becomes Unsustainably Tight

The first indicator is the unemployment gap, which is the difference between the unemployment rate and the natural rate of unemployment (formerly called NAIRU, for the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment). A strong labor market prompts the Fed to tighten because an unemployment rate well below the natural rate is unsustainable by definition, and can lead to a spike in wage and price inflation. Looking at the current cycle, the labor market is in the early stages of overheating. We see unemployment heading to 3.5 percent, which would be consistent with the pre-recession behavior of the unemployment gap in past cycles.

Unemployment Gap (Unemployment Rate – Natural Rate of Unemployment)
Labor Market Becomes Unsustainably Tight

Source: Haver Analytics, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 10.31.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2001, and 2007. Natural rate is Laubach-Williams one-sided filtered estimate. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

2. Fed Raises Rates into Restrictive Territory

The second chart shows the reaction function of the Fed. Subtracting the natural rate of interest—which is the neutral fed funds rate, neither contractionary nor stimulative for the economy—from the real fed funds rate gives us a gauge of how loose or tight Fed policy is. Leading up to past recessions, the Fed has usually hiked rates beyond the natural rate to cool the labor market and get ahead of inflation, only to inadvertently push the economy into recession. Looking at the current cycle, we expect quarterly rate hikes to resume in December. This will put Fed policy well into restrictive territory next year, barring a sharper increase in the natural rate than we expect.

Real Fed Funds Rate – Natural Rate of Interest (r*)

Fed Raises Rates into Restrictive Territory

Source: Haver Analytics, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 10.31.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2001, and 2007. Natural rate is Laubach-Williams one-sided filtered estimate. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

3. Treasury Yield Curve Flattens

One of the most reliable and consistent predictors of recession has been the Treasury yield curve. Recessions are always preceded by a flat or inverted yield curve, usually occurring about 12 months before the downturn begins. This occurs with T-bill yields rising as Fed policy becomes restrictive while 10-year yields rise at a slower pace. Looking at the current cycle, we expect that steady increases in the fed funds rate will continue to flatten the yield curve over the next 12–18 months.

Three Month–10 Year Treasury Yield Curve (bps)

Treasury Yield Curve Flattens

Source: Haver Analytics, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 10.31.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2001, and 2007. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

4. Leading Indicators Decline

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI), which measures 10 key variables, is itself a recession predictor, albeit a fallible one. It has been irreverently said that the LEI predicted 15 out of the last eight recessions. Nevertheless, growth in the LEI always slows on a year-over-year basis heading into a recession, and turns negative about seven months out, on average. Looking at the current cycle, LEI growth of 4 percent over the past year has been on par with past cycles two years before a recession, and we will be watching for a deceleration over the course of the coming year.

Leading Economic Index, Year-over-Year % Change

Leading Indicators Decline

Source: Bloomberg, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 10.31.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2001, and 2007. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

5. Growth in Hours Worked Slows

Other indicators of the real economy, including aggregate weekly hours, decline in the months preceding a recession as employers begin to reduce headcount and cut the length of the workweek. Looking at the current cycle, aggregate weekly hours growth has been steady, albeit at weaker than average levels, reflecting slower labor force growth as baby boomers retire. We expect growth in hours worked to hold up over the coming year before slowing more markedly in 2019.

Aggregate Weekly Hours Worked, Year-over-Year % Change

Growth in Hours Worked Slows

Source: Haver Analytics, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 10.31.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2001, and 2007. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

6. Consumer Spending Declines

Real retail sales growth weakens significantly before a recession begins, with the inflection point typically occurring about 12 months before the start of the recession. Consumers cut back on spending as they start to feel the impact of slowing real income growth. This shows up most noticeably in retail sales, which are made up of a higher share of discretionary purchases than other measures of consumption. Looking at the current cycle, real retail sales growth has been steady at around 2 percent. This is weaker than the historical average, but is consistent with slower-trend gross domestic product (GDP) growth in this cycle.

Real Retail Sales, Year-over-Year % Change

Consumer Spending Declines

Source: Haver Analytics, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 10.31.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2001, and 2007. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Model-Based Recession Probability

In addition to creating our dashboard of recession indicators, we have also developed an integrated model that attempts to predict the probability of a recession over six-, 12-, and 24-month horizons. We developed the model using the unemployment gap, the stance of monetary policy, the yield curve, and the LEI, as well as the share of cyclical sectors of the economy (durable goods consumption, housing, and business investment in equipment and intellectual property) as a percent of GDP. The model shows that it would have successfully signaled each recession in advance going back to 1960. Of course, this is a new model; it has not been used to predict future recessions and its future accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

As the chart below illustrates, we believe the current likelihood of a recession in the next six or 12 months is low, at 4 percent and 9 percent, respectively, as of the third quarter of 2017. Within a two-year window, recession risk appears more meaningful at 22 percent. We also show forecasts for the model, which is based on a continuation of current trends for each of the indicators, and assumes the Fed resumes quarterly rate hikes starting in December. If these trends play out, the model indicates a high probability of a recession starting in late 2019–mid 2020.

Near-Term Recession Risk Is Low, but Longer-Term Risks Are Rising

Model-Based Recession Probability
Model-Based Recession Probability

Hypothetical Illustration. The Recession Probability Model is a new model with no prior history of forecasting recessions. Actual results may vary significantly from the results shown. Source: Haver Analytics, Bloomberg, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 9.30.2017. Shaded areas represent periods of recession.

What about the tax cuts currently being debated in Congress? Fiscal stimulus poses a modest upside risk to GDP growth in 2018, but by late 2019 the fiscal impulse could be fading, which will be a drag on growth. Moreover, campaigning for the November 2020 general election will be underway, which will serve to increase policy uncertainty in a way that could undermine consumer and business confidence.

Additionally, our recession date coincides with a period where the balance sheets of the world’s major central banks will likely be shrinking in aggregate for the first time since the financial crisis, removing that form of global monetary stimulus just as U.S. fundamentals are weakening.

As we noted earlier, predicting downturns is a notoriously difficult endeavor, but the fact that a variety of approaches all point to the same timeframe for a recession gives us confidence in our view. Naturally, there are substantial risks that our recession date could be too early or too late. The expansion could last longer than we think for a number of reasons, including the possibility that there is more labor market slack than there currently appears, or that productivity growth could accelerate considerably. On the flipside, a recession could occur sooner than we anticipate due to a sudden spike in inflation, more hawkish Fed policy, or a geopolitical shock, such as a military conflict with North Korea or a trade dispute with China. And there are always the unknown unknowns.

Nevertheless, we believe that successful investing requires a roadmap, as with any other endeavor. Our investment team uses this roadmap to help guide our portfolio management decisions, in order to seek superior risk-adjusted performance over time and across cycles.

Investment Implications

When faced with a recession looming on the horizon, investors first must recognize that preparing too early can be as harmful as reacting too late. Indeed, the best gains in stocks often occur in the latter stages of an expansion, when economic growth is accelerating, monetary policy is not overly restrictive, and optimism is high—as is currently the case. As the graph below demonstrates, in the last five comparable cycles the S&P 500 has rallied an average of 16.2 percent in the penultimate year of the expansion, before falling 3.8 percent in the final 12 months.

Stocks Rally Two Years Out from Recession Before Declining in Final Year

Cumulative S&P 500 Index Total Return Starting 24 Months Before Recessions
Stocks Rally Two Years Out from Recession Before Declining in Final Year

Source: Bloomberg, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 9.30.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2001, and 2007. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

In credit markets, high-yield spreads tend to stay flattish in the penultimate year of the expansion before widening in the final year, on average. Rising defaults and increasing credit and liquidity risk premiums drive a sharp pullback in the performance in high-yield bonds before and during recessions.

High-Yield Spreads Begin to Widen About One Year Out From Recession

Cumulative Change in Basis Points Starting 24 Months Before Recessions
High-Yield Spreads Begin to Widen About One Year Out From Recession

Source: Bloomberg, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 9.30.2017. Includes cycles ending in 1990, 2001, and 2007. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

If history is a guide, then by the final year of the expansion (2019), investors should turn defensive, positioning for widening credit spreads and falling equity valuations. Treasury yields are likely to decline once the Fed stops hiking. As we noted in Stocks for the Long Run? Not Now, elevated stock valuations portend meager returns over the next decade, and one key reason is that a bear market is likely a couple of years away. Maintaining some dry powder in the final year of the expansion will allow equity and credit investors to take advantage of more attractive valuations, as some of the best investment opportunities present themselves during recessions.

Guggenheim Investments’ Recession Dashboard

 

Recession Dashboard Key

Unemployment Gap (Unemployment Rate – Natural Rate of Unemployment)

Unemployment Gap (Unemployment Rate – Natural Rate of Unemployment)

 

Real Fed Funds Rate – Natural Rate of Interest (r*)

Real Fed Funds Rate – Natural Rate of Interest

 

Three Month–10 Year Treasury Yield Curve (Basis Points)

Three Month–10 Year Treasury Yield Curve (Basis Points)

 

Leading Economic Index, YoY % Change

Leading Economic Index, YoY % Change

 

Aggregate Weekly Hours Worked, YoY % Change

Aggregate Weekly Hours Worked, YoY % Change

 

Real Retail Sales, YoY % Change

Real Retail Sales

 

Important Notices and Disclosures

Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.

This material is distributed or presented for informational or educational purposes only and should not be considered a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product, or as investing advice of any kind. This material is not provided in a fiduciary capacity, may not be relied upon for or in connection with the making of investment decisions, and does not constitute a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell securities. The content contained herein is not intended to be and should not be construed as legal or tax advice and/or a legal opinion. Always consult a financial, tax and/or legal professional regarding your specific situation.

This material contains opinions of the author or speaker, but not necessarily those of Guggenheim Partners, LLC or its subsidiaries. The opinions contained herein are subject to change without notice. Forward looking statements, estimates, and certain information contained herein are based upon proprietary and non-proprietary research and other sources. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but are not assured as to accuracy. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There is neither representation nor warranty as to the current accuracy of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information. No part of this material may be reproduced or referred to in any form, without express written permission of Guggenheim Partners, LLC.

Guggenheim Investments represents the following affiliated investment management businesses of Guggenheim Partners, LLC: Guggenheim Partners Investment Management, LLC, Security Investors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Investment Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Distributors, LLC, Guggenheim Real Estate, LLC, GS GAMMA Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Partners Europe Limited and Guggenheim Partners India Management. This material is intended to inform you of services available through Guggenheim Investments’ affiliate businesses.
 


FEATURED PERSPECTIVES

November 19, 2018

Jogging to the Exits

Preparing for the market turbulence that typically occurs in the run up to a recession.

October 29, 2018

Forecasting the Next Recession: The Yield Curve Doesn’t Lie

Our Recession Probability Model and Recession Dashboard continue to suggest a recession is likely to begin in early 2020. Investors ignore the yield curve’s signal at their peril.

October 15, 2018

Beneath the Tide of Rising Earnings

Factors that have contributed to strong earnings growth this year will fade in 2019 and turn into headwinds in 2020, exposing leveraged corporate borrowers.


VIDEO

Forecasting the Next Recession 

Forecasting the Next Recession

Global CIO Scott Minerd and Head of Macroeconomic and Investment Research Brian Smedley provide context and commentary to complement our recent publication, “Forecasting the Next Recession.”

Macro Themes to Watch in 2018 

Macro Themes to Watch in 2018

In his market outlook, Global CIO Scott Minerd discusses the challenges of managing in a market melt up and highlights several charts from his recent piece, “10 Macro Themes to Watch in 2018.”







© Guggenheim Investments. All rights reserved.

Guggenheim Investments represents the following affiliated investment management businesses of Guggenheim Partners, LLC: Guggenheim Partners Investment Management, LLC, Security Investors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Investment Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Distributors, LLC, Guggenheim Real Estate, LLC, GS GAMMA Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Partners Europe Limited and Guggenheim Partners India Management.