Since World War II, the average expansion period for US gross domestic product has lasted less than five years — and the current expansion is now in its sixth year. Does that mean we’re due for another recession?
Recessions don’t just happen because they are overdue; they need to be induced by some event.
A ‘lesser recession’
In a note Thursday, Dario Perkins of UK-based Lombard Street Research pointed to the stock bubble as the most likely cause for an upcoming “lesser recession.”
“Asset prices have risen sharply over the past five years in response to low long-term interest rates and aggressive central bank stimulus,” Perkins wrote. “This presents an important risk to the global economy, perhaps the most likely trigger for the next recession.”
He added, on a positive note, that unlike the most recent economic downturn, the next one would likely only be tied to stock prices. This is because while stock values have skyrocketed over the past few years, home values in developed economies have made modest gains. Though a stock market crash would be a bad thing, it wouldn’t nearly have the same effect on GDP a housing market crash.
Think dotcom bust, not global credit crisis
Perkins illustrated his point by comparing the effect on GDP from both the dotcom crash and the subprime-mortgage crisis. During the dotcom bust, which didn’t affect housing prices, GDP continued to rise for the most part in the quarters following the stock market peak.
He also pulls research from the Bank of England showing that credit trends, while very similar to the trajectory of the business cycle, have peaks that are twice as large and twice as long. The worst recessions are those that coincide with a credit crunch, as in 2009. But we are still in a credit upswing since then. In other words, the next recession isn’t likely to be accompanied by a credit bust, which will further mitigate the harm done.
The next downturn will also be protected by the still sluggish recovery from 2009. That is, there are fewer imbalances, less systematic risk, less household debt, and less bank leverage.
A more mild recession will be good for central banks that have limited tools left to respond to an economic crisis. Interest rates — already near zero — can only go so much lower, and a very high benchmark would be needed to justify restarting QE.
Suppose, for example, the next recession is caused by the bursting of a bubble in equity prices. Would QE be able to reverse such a decline? And if central banks were blamed for causing this bubble, would they be willing to try to reflate the bubble with the same policy? Obviously we can only speculate about this, but it is clear both the Fed and the Bank of England were anxious to stop doing QE because they were concerned about its potential impact on financial stability.
In short, while Perkins thinks a stock market crash could cause a recession soon, the effects will be nothing like those felt in 2009.
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