Very early this year our economics team got a pleasant surprise: Consensus Economics, which collects forecasts from roughly 200 economists around the world, rated us the most accurate forecasters of the United States for 2022, based on our forecasts for GDP and CPI. Unfortunately, we don’t expect a repeat award for 2023.
For 2022, we saw inflation and continued moderate growth. We were right. This past year, in 2023, we anticipated economic weakness late in the year, and put our S&P 500 target at 3,900. Instead, the economy remained resilient and stocks rallied much more than we thought. As we said a year ago: “if it turns out that Chairman Powell and the Federal Reserve have engineered a soft landing – no recession in 2023 and with the market ending 2023 confident of not having a recession in 2024 – then stocks should rally substantially in 2023 and easily beat our S&P 500 target of 3,900.” Today, that’s what most stock market investors are thinking: a soft landing has been achieved and they should therefore be optimistic about the future.
But we don’t think the economy is out of the woods yet. The consensus among economists is now that the economy will continue to grow in 2024, with a soft landing and no recession. We think that’s too bullish and see a mild recession with a -0.5% real GDP print on the way for 2024.
The yield curve has been inverted for more than a year and is likely to remain so well into 2024 and the M2 measure of the money supply is down 3.3% from a year ago, while commercial & industrial loans have also declined. Commercial construction has been temporarily and artificially supported by government subsidies in the past couple of years and should soon start faltering. Payrolls have grown very fast in the past year even with an unusually low unemployment rate, suggesting that businesses have over-hired.
Meanwhile, consumer spending looks set to slow. Government payouts, rent and student loan moratoriums, and temporary tax cuts during COVID led to bloated overall savings for many consumers. In turn, they could relax in 2022-23 and save a smaller part of their ongoing earnings than they normally would. But the artificial boost from these government actions is likely to finally run out in 2024, which suggests to us consumer spending will moderate significantly in 2024.