Stock prices don’t show it yet, but the slowdown many economists have been warning about seems to have arrived.
The index of leading indicators unexpectedly declined in June, suggesting future softness in manufacturing, especially. The New York Federal Reserve says the probability of a recession within 12 months is 33% – the highest since 2008. Business spending, after a brief surge in 2018, has dropped back to 2016 levels. And CEO confidence have dropped to the levels of 2012.
“The outlook for the U.S. economy is weaker than it has been in months,” according to research from Moody’s Analytics.
President Trump should be deeply concerned, since his reelection odds depend on a strong economy in the second half of 2020. But he’s paying the economy little mind, busying himself instead with bogus complaints about Fed chair Jerome Powell and racist taunts of four minority members of Congress.
The Yahoo Finance Trump-o-meter doesn’t measure social or political matters, but it does sense that Trump should be generating less friction and doing more contingency planning for lean times. For those reasons, this week’s Trump-o-meter reads WEAK, our third lowest rating.
There are still notable strong spots in the economy—most importantly the labor force. Employers are adding 172,000 new jobs per month on average this year, which is lower than the last few years but still strong enough to keep the unemployment rate under 4%, which is quite good.
Consumers are more optimistic than a lot of economists. Retail sales picked up in June, rising 3.4% year over year. Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland argues that Trump’s real mistake is fomenting racial and political division instead of talking up the economy every chance he gets.
Trump may think he’s about to get his wish, since the Fed seems likely to cut interest rates soon, as Trump has been begging it to do. But that may not provide the boost some expect. “It is certainly conceivable that equities rise for a few more weeks or even months,” Capital Economics advised clients recently. “But, given the economic outlook, we still think that they will eventually fall, and our end-year forecast is well below current levels.”
The biggest unknown in the global economy is America’s trade dispute with the world, which Trump obviously has some control over. A year and a half of rising tariffs have slowed the flow of global trade and discouraged some business leaders. Trump may think he can quickly reverse that, if necessary, by making peace with China and foreswearing any further tariffs. If he did, the Trump-o-meter would doubtless take note. The danger for Trump, however, is that he overestimates his ability to single-handedly control a multifaceted economy that may be turning on him.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman