Experts fear a recession is nearly unavoidable after the Friday release of federal data showing decades-high inflation in May revealed that President Biden, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell and other top policymakers are nowhere near achieving their goal of lowering prices.
Economists and investors alike are increasingly concerned that the Fed will fail in its mission to engineer a “soft landing” – despite assurances from Biden and others that the US economy remains strong.
Stephen Miran, co-founder of Amberwave Partners and a former senior adviser to the Treasury, told The Post the chances the country falls into recession is now “very high” but likely “still a couple of quarters out.”
“The Fed’s hiking and balance sheet operations are, based on historical experience, more than enough to put us into a recession, but there’s typically a lag between Fed actions and economic outcomes,” Miran told The Post.
The higher-than-expected 8.6% rise in the Consumer Price Index last month has only added pressure to the Fed’s high-wire attempt to cool inflation without hurting a strong labor market or triggering an economic slowdown.
Powell has indicated that the Fed is likely to hike rates by a half-percentage point at meetings in June and July. Prior to this year, the central bank hadn’t increased its benchmark rate by more than a quarter-percentage point since 2000.
“The Federal Reserve has their backs against the wall, because they didn’t move sooner to control inflation, and now they will be forced to raise interest rates higher and at a quicker pace than they would like,” said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance.
Before the release of May inflation data, Moody’s Analytics projected 33% odds of a recession later this year and 50% odds of a downturn in 2023. Both of those numbers are likely to increase based on the higher-than-expected CPI, according to Victor Calanog, the firm’s head of commercial real estate economics.
“The risk of a recession has risen significantly over the last few months,” Calanog told The Post.
The 8.6% uptick in May was the largest rate of increase since December 1981. Gasoline prices are up by 48.7% year-over-year as the Russia-Ukraine war and shipment disruptions further upend the energy market, while food prices jumped more than 10%.
The May CPI reading topped economists’ expectations. Prices rose 1% compared to April.
Despite the alarming trends, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen – who recently referred to inflation levels as “unacceptable” – argued this week that a recession was unlikely.
“I don’t think we’re (going to) have a recession. Consumer spending is very strong. Investment spending is solid,” Yellen said at a New York Times Dealbook event.
“I know people are very upset and rightly so about inflation, but there’s nothing to suggest that a…recession is in the works.
Meanwhile, critics have argued that President Biden’s economic policies, including massive pandemic-era spending bills and a crackdown on US oil producers, have contributed to surging prices.
Biden has declared the fight against inflation his top domestic priority, pinning the crisis on President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the greed of major US corporations.
He defended the state of the economy earlier this month after a stronger-than-expected May jobs report showed the national unemployment rate hovering at just 3.6%.
“There is every reason for the American people to feel confident that we’ll meet these challenges,” Biden said on June 3. “Because of the enormous progress we’ve made on the economy, the Americans can tackle inflation from a position of strength.”
Tim Mahedy, senior economist at KPMG US, said the likelihood of a recession in 2023 “definitely increased today.”
KPMG now expects half-percentage-point hikes at every Fed meeting through September, with more possible in November and December.
“It’s all about the American consumer – the last real pillar of strength as nonresidential investment is likely to cool as rates rise,” Mahedy said.
Ariel Zilber contributed reporting.