Trading Desk: Powell Doesn’t Want A Recession Either

We should do this more often. Fed Chair Jay Powell came right out and said it: while a recession is “certainly a possibility” before the current rate cycle stops, he and his colleagues aren’t actively trying to provoke a serious economic downturn.

And while the mood remains brittle, the reality check is evidently enough for investors who had managed to second-guess themselves out of the market. The Fed wants to cool things off. Nobody wants a deep freeze.

That’s a good thing. We’ve discussed the dubious long-term benefit of dumping your stocks at the first hint of winter in the air . . . even when the chill actually turns into a recession. When it’s just a passing breeze, all you’re doing is cheating yourself out of the sunny days that follow.

And from a corporate perspective, these are the sunny days. While individual companies and sectors see the clouds, others are still pushing the bottom line forward.

To be fair, earnings expectations for the recent quarter have come come down a little to account for persistent inflation and the Fed’s aggressive campaign against it. But we’re still looking for roughly 4-5% growth when the cycle starts in a few weeks.

Maybe everyone on Wall Street collectively has it wrong and corporate results are secretly crashing all around us. Don’t get me wrong, it could happen.

However, the fact that targets have relaxed shows that we’re all reacting to developments, factoring new numbers into the models and pivoting when it’s clear that the world has changed. The smartest minds on Wall Street aren’t sleeping through this.

And these are the numbers that came out of the latest round of revisions. Growth is slowing. That’s no shock.

But after years of exaggerated year-over-year comparisons, even a reversion to something like “normal” isn’t bad, especially when full-year earnings targets are still flashing a little more than 10% above 2021 levels. It’s not a boom, but it’s not necessarily a recession either.

For better or worse, a lot of investors have forgotten that while every recession at least stings Main Street, stocks don’t necessarily move in the same direction. We used to say that what was good for Wall Street was bad for the real economy. That’s still true.

The question is whether you’re thinking like an investor or a consumer. We’re all consumers, so a recession weighs on us all, one way or another.

But with the right investments, the pain goes away. You can even make money. That’s why we invest.

And I think a lot of investors were so scarred by the 2008 recession that they now think any economic downturn will be that serious, severe and scary. Remember, 2008 was called the “great” recession because it was the worst crash since the Great Depression. It wasn’t normal.

Even if the Fed reaches too far and we end up in a recession after all, the odds are pretty high that it will be more like 1990 than 2008. Do you remember the 1990 recession? Was it the end of the world?

Thirty years later, it’s clear that we recovered and got back to work. Fed economists are factoring a 1990-level slowdown into their math as the worst likely scenario, so that’s where their heads are.

Back then, unemployment jumped 2 percentage points and GDP shrank 1 percentage point. That would take the job market back to 2015 territory.

Stocks did pretty well back then. And right now, relative to growth, they almost look cheap.