A Recession May Not Be Likely, but a ‘Semi-Recession’ Is. Here’s What That Means.

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Credit Suisse doesn’t think the U.S. economy is headed toward a recession. It’s more complicated than that. It’s more like a semi-recession.

Analyst Jonathan Golub wrote to investors on Thursday that contradictory economic data shows that, yes, there are indicators of a recession. But, he also sees signs of “healthy economics elsewhere” indicating the economy is stronger than what the more bearish investors have been fearing for the past year.

“While investors debate whether we’re entering a recession, we believe the backdrop is better described as a ‘Semi-Recession,’” Golub wrote.

A decline in industrial production, coupled with poor manufacturing data that came out Tuesday, point to a slowdown in growth, according to the note. But continued expansion in the labor market makes Golub think that “recessionary indicators have weakened, but do not point to a broad-based downturn.”

Other experts say the economy is just in a period of cooling down before a recession comes; this is somewhat common at the tail end of a growth cycle. They argue that a general slowdown in the global economy—the eurozone is on the brink of recession, China is slowing, and new countries get dragged into the global trade war on a near weekly basis— has been the main contributor to the weaker economic data.

“We’re living at a time where the rest of the world but the United States is experiencing economic stagnation for several reasons or very, very slow growth,” said Juscelino Colares, professor at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. “The only place you will find growth is in the American economy.”

Case in point: the U.S. added 136,000 jobs in September, which was below analysts’ estimates of 145,000. Still, unemployment fell 0.2 percentage points to 3.5%—the lowest it’s been since 1969, according to the Labor Department on Friday. For hourly workers though there was good news. Wages grew at a rate of 2.9% for the year.

“The fundamentals of the economy are still strong. Americans are still spending, and there is a very high percentage of labor participation,” Colares said. “The economy is very sound. The question is should the uncertainty from various sources remain.”

How the labor market goes, so does the consumer, which is the most important indicator to watch for, said Greg McBride, an analyst at Bankrate. As long as consumer spending continues, the economy will keep pushing off a full-blown recession. But once people start to lose their jobs, that’s when one will come.

“People are spending because they have jobs. They have a steady paycheck and those paychecks have been growing,” McBride said. “The minute we see any of those dynamics change, that’s when we see a more pronounced effect on the consumer.”

Colares anticipates U.S. consumers will keep spending too, especially with the holiday season coming. Consumer spending, which accounted for 69% of the U.S. GDP in 2018, is the reason why he doesn’t think a “semi-recession” is an apt term for what investors are seeing in the economy right now.

If there is a recession in the cards, Corales said, “I’m just not convinced it will be even next year.”

“What we’re seeing,” he continued, “is a softening of some economic numbers while others remain strong.”

Golub is sticking with his “semi-recession” call. And, he warns that the equities market offers very little upside in the near-term during such an economic climate. McBride agrees that investors should play it more cautiously until there’s more clarity on the trade war and other signs of global growth improve.

Millennials, on the other hand, should be looking at a recession as an opportunity to buy low and position themselves for future returns, McBride said. “Young investors should not fear a recession.”

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