The silver linings of a recession

By Economist

Predicting a global recession usually means standing out from the crowd. Today it is those saying the world economy will avoid a downturn who are sticking their necks out. America’s Federal Reserve is leading a broad charge to tighten monetary policy, and has raised interest rates by 2¼ percentage points since March. It is expected to impose another point of tightening by December. Europe is short of natural gas because of falling supplies from Russia. Chinese growth has slowed sharply as a result of the lockdowns that stem from its zero-covid policy, and worries are mounting over its fragile property markets.

So gloomy is the mood that many investors are asking whether a recession has already arrived. It is a hard question to answer. The pandemic has played havoc with economic indicators. Inflation has caused consumer confidence to plunge, but when asked about their personal finances rather than the whole economy, people are much cheerier. America’s disappointing gdp figures do not tally with other measures of output or employers’ growing payrolls. Manufacturing surveys register their weakest results since the early days of the pandemic, but that may be because consumers are still rebalancing their spending after the worst phase of the pandemic (there is less buying of home-gym equipment, but more queuing in airports). Even China’s slowdown could help Europe narrowly, by reducing global demand for liquefied natural gas.

Regardless of whether economies are already shrinking, it is hard to see how they can avoid a recession over the next year as monetary tightening bites and Europe heads into a bleak winter. The silver lining is that both higher interest rates and the energy shock will bring gains that should strengthen the world economy in the long run.

Some recessions feed on themselves as indebted households cut their spending or defaults cascade through a fragile financial system. With a few exceptions, such as Canada’s frothy housing market, today’s big economies suffer from few such vulnerabilities. In fact, households and companies look strong.

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