It started about a year ago: analysts began talking about a recession after a labor-market report -- jobless claims -- bumped up slightly, flashing yellow. Then there were signs that the growth-boosting effect of Republican-backed tax cuts were starting to fade. Spooking investors further were declines in key indicators of factory activity, amid President Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods and a global manufacturing slump.

Portions of the Treasury yield curve inverted, usually a harbinger of recession, and the Federal Reserve began to cut interest rates in hopes of protecting the expansion. And since then, it's being discussed by policy makers, economists, academics and everyone at the water cooler.

Here are some stories to catch you up:

Recession risks are global

The latest Bloomberg survey shows economists expect a contraction starting in 2021, though GM strike could skew data to the downside, making it seem closer

Meanwhile the US consumer is holding up for now- and they make up the majority of the economy...

...while tariffs continue to take a bite out of manufacturing and investment

And recession indicators remain mixed


I'll be answering your questions from 1pm to 2pm EST. AMA!

UPDATE: Thank you everyone! There were some really interesting, smart questions and I wish I could have gotten to more. Please feel free to email me or tweet @KatiaDmi

Comments: 1405 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

afattypanda601 karma

What can average people do to best protect themselves from the economic impact of a possible recession?

bloomberg1360 karma

This is a great question but may be best answered by a financial adviser! From my reporting, talking to economists, the best thing is just save money if you can and diversify your holdings! Wutang Financial has this great saying ``Cash rules everything around me except when other asset classes provide higher risk adjusted yields." There's no way to predict a recession and no way to know what it will infect.

Liamwill-walker502 karma

Does the media try to make sure that a recession will happen by constantly reporting that a recession may happen even if a recession might not happen?

bloomberg83 karma

LOL. Not on purpose! It wouldn't be good for anyone. Some economists we speak with have mentioned moderating their language so that they don't bring on a recession. Our job is just to report the data and what experts say it means.

JagerNinja253 karma

Have you looked at auto lending as a potential indicator for recession? Auto loan terms seem to be getting longer, interest rates are climbing, sub-prime lending is on the rise again, and average transaction prices are higher than ever. While not as catastrophic as a mortgage crisis, I wonder what these red flags mean for the economy as one's car is often their second largest expense behind housing, especially in parts of the US that have underdeveloped public transportation.

bloomberg91 karma

I haven't but my colleague has

PatBoonDebbieBoon62 karma

What do you feel are the leading factors behind the threat of recession we're facing right now? The events of 2008 are often summarized as "The mortgage crisis". What do you think this recession would be called? Do you think it will effect the housing market the same way as 2008?

bloomberg92 karma

Right now, the biggest risk is the manufacturing contraction, which is coming amid slowing demand abroad and the U.S.-China trade war. But the sector only makes up about 10% of the economy. We've also seen a slowdown in wage growth this year, since February by one measure. But unlike in 2008, when investors flagged concern about mortgages and consumer debt, there's not really an equivalent today. It'll probably be called "the most telegraphed recession."

Bobuna57 karma

I feel it coming, but IF it were to happen, how would this recession compare to the previous one in 2008? Better or worse?

bloomberg91 karma

The answer, which you'll probably not like: it's hard to tell. Economists who we speak with say that if there's a recession, consumers are at least more prepared (higher savings and more are employed) than 2008 (which was the worst since the Great Depression). The 2008 financial crisis was so bad because there was a contagion of the financial system, from consumers to companies. No one can identify what that potential risk factor/asset would be today. But since economics is more of an art than a science, you'll find a plethora of takes on this: maybe the high corporate debt will tip us over and the labor market, although tight, is more precarious which means the knock-on effects could hit consumers harder. Reade Pickert: The severity of a recession can be judged on a variety of measures like duration or how bad unemployment gets. The worst recessions also tend to be paired with a collapse of the financial system, which also happened in the last recession. Unemployment spiked to 10%, which is the second highest on record in data going back to the 1940s.

RamDasshole54 karma

It probably won't be as bad as the last one.. hopefully.

Many recent students are at higher risk of being the first ones fired during a recession, have little to no savings and would therefore have a hard time making payments if they lost their jobs. Would you say that student loan debt is the most vulnerable to default during the upcoming recession?

bloomberg67 karma

Thank you for mentioning this! Student debt is a colossal issue in this country. It's growing at a faster pace than other forms of debt, and sometimes ensnares people for life. That limits their economic mobility, job opportunities, and- yes- makes them much more vulnerable to financial shocks. The Federal Reserve Bank of NY is researching the topic for this exact reason. It's also why some candidates are calling for debt forgiveness- the economic argument is that it unleashes spending potential and growth.

Bismar736 karma

Given that forecasting, econometrics, and basic statistics consistently works on past data to try to come to conclusions about the present and future, how do you reconcile compounding error in your predictions since the present isn't the past (and people change their minds ala "animal spirits")?

Do you ever question the methods and methodology of using statistics designed for interpolation for extrapolation?

Being more in touch with the context of reality as part of a news organization, do you have any suggestions for academics or courses being taught at universities? Is there anything you wish was stressed more in the field or impressed upon the next generation of economists?

bloomberg31 karma

I love this question! Because you're right- a recession is data+context. I would say both are important! My only advice is don't ignore the people: even though unemployment rate looks tight, what kind of job quality is out there? Talk to debt counselors, part-time workers, and folks not in your area of expertise to get a richer understanding of the economy. You could also stumble on something that no one else has thought of as a recession risk ;)

littlepiggy30 karma

In the 2008 recession a lot of rich and powerful people became more rich and powerful. Are we likely going to see the inequality gap worsen?

bloomberg55 karma

This is true, but was also true prior to the 2008 recession. We've seen wealth inequality in the U.S. widen since the 1960s, largely as the top 10% have pulled ahead of everyone else. Taxes became less progressive, equity markets gained (most Americans don't actually own stocks), and the homes people lost were a significant hit. Without changing the underlying system, inequality will continue to widen.

msginger8730 karma

What's your favorite recession indicator and why?

bloomberg77 karma

Fun question! It's tough to choose just one bc they all work together to tell the story of the economy. I'm personally a fan of the monthly jobs report. It gives you a good snapshot of the health of the labor market and various workers. That's key because consumers- you, me, and our spending- makes up the majority of the economy and growth. GDP data is great...but only comes out quarterly. My colleague Reade Pickert and I think alike! Here's what she says: Short term: jobless claims -- The measure shows how many Americans are applying to receive unemployment benefits and a sustained pickup suggests companies are boosting layoffs. So far, claims still look good. Long term: consumer spending -- Consumers are carrying the economy as businesses pull back so any sign of significant pullback would be worrying.

pauciradiatus7 karma

What did you report on before economics and how long did it take to be in your current position?

bloomberg13 karma

I've been at Bloomberg News for about 7 years, and covered real estate, bonds/FX, and financial firms (banks, insurers, asset managers) here. Even covered agriculture and green finance for a bit!

_Shahnawaz6 karma

What sector of people will be least affected in the case of a recession?

bloomberg16 karma

Hard to say definitely, but safe to say those at the very top 1% income distribution, who have savings, investments across a variety of asset classes, and more money to start with.

WolfieMagnet3 karma

You said "consumers...[make] up the majority of the economy and growth".

I hear that a lot, and it always worries me. What does it actually mean, though? It always seems like consumption has made up the majority of the economy for a while, which just seems like a giant pyramid scheme.

bloomberg15 karma

I know what you mean! Consumption makes up about 70% of growth in the US, one of the highest in the world. This is why the labor market is so, so important: without wage gains, hiring, demand people won't spend more, especially on services. And think how many people are employed at restaurants, bars, salons, retail has that knock-on effect.

bloomberg1 karma

Thank you everyone! There were some really interesting, smart questions and I wish I could have gotten to more. Please feel free to email me or tweet @KatiaDmi

jkarl261 karma

Is there a chance that we're already in a recession right *now* and we just don't realize it yet?

supertexas16 karma

A recession is typically defined by two successive quarters with lowering GDP. What “feels” like a recession isn’t the exact same as what economists at Bloomberg would define a recession as.

bloomberg6 karma

Yep! In the US, a council at the NBER, a nonprofit economic group, defines it but it takes them more than a year after a recession hits to make that ruling.

bloomberg0 karma

I wonder the same exact thing. There's little chance of that when the hard data says no. GDP growth is slowing but not contracting. Consumers are still spending. And the labor market/unemployment rate is still tight. It's more important to look at the trend of the data for this very reason: jobless claims for example, may spike for one or two weeks but that doesn't mean a recession. As Reade points out, it also depends on your definition of a recession: in some countries it's two back-to-back quarters of contraction, but in the U.S., it's a "significant decline in activity spread across the economy" lasting for more than a handful of months. So we could see a step down in business and consumer activity which leads to a recession...but we're not there yet.

sonofabutch0 karma

During the Obama presidency, conservatives (including Trump) would routinely claim that the administration was cooking the books when it came to the unemployment rate, monthly jobs report, consumer spending, and so on. And several times I've noticed the administration crowing about how many jobs were created, only several weeks later for it to be quietly revised downward (often significantly downward).

So: How can we be sure this administration isn't doing exactly what conservatives accused the previous administration of doing?

bloomberg1 karma

Interesting you mention this because I just wrote a related story. What I can say is that the statistical agencies have some of the most intelligent, dedicated, impartial, wonky economists and researchers in this country- and that's not my subjective opinion, it's what you'll hear from the industry and from policymakers and in other countries. The other thing to keep in mind is that eco data is often revised because it's based on surveys and always provide the statistical margin of error.