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Is recession down the road?

Key takeaways

  • The US economy is continuing to grow and remains in the late-cycle phase of the business cycle when stock prices may continue to rise despite volatility.
  • Some economic indicators suggest that economic growth may be accelerating rather than slowing toward recession.
  • The next recession is unlikely to be as severe as the last major recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009.

As 2024 passes the halfway mark, there's uncertainty about the state of the US economy, the next moves of the Federal Reserve, the upcoming elections, jobs, and more. But there's one thing that Fidelity's Asset Allocation Research Team feels confident about: Another deep and damaging recession like the one that accompanied the global financial crisis from 2007 to 2009 is not lurking around the corner.

Cait Dourney of the Asset Allocation Research Team explains that today's economic landscape is very different from the one that existed 15 years ago and made the so-called Great Recession deep and long. "Consumers, mortgages, big banks, and corporate earnings are all in much better shape than they were then," she says. For now, says Dourney, the US remains in the late phase of the business cycle, when the economy is still growing and stock prices may continue to rise.

Not only does a steep and deep decline in economic growth look unlikely, an increasing number of factors suggest the economy may be further from even a mild recession than it was at the start of 2024. One of the most significant is the Federal Reserve's success in managing interest rates to bring inflation under control without hurting economic growth. The Fed left rates alone at its June meeting and the economy is showing resilience because consumers have excess savings and unemployment is historically low.

What's a recession and when might the next one arrive?

Throughout history, economies have followed a pattern where activities like buying, selling, investing, and working increase until they decrease for short periods of time. These periods of decreased activity are known as recessions and have historically lasted an average of 9 months before activity begins to increase again. The challenge for economic forecasters, investors, and consumers alike is to determine when the shift from increasing activity to recession may take place.

Watching the curves

One place to look for signs that a recession is approaching is the market for US Treasury bonds. Comparing how much interest bonds that mature at various times are paying is a popular method used by recession-watchers. It is noteworthy whenever yields on bonds that mature in the relatively near future rise higher than those of bonds that mature at a more distant point in time. It's now been more than 2 years since yields on 10-year US Treasury notes fell below yields on 2-year notes.

However, history shows that an inverted yield curve forecasts recession much in the same way that autumn forecasts winter: While one eventually follows the other, nothing indicates when the snow will start falling. Indeed, the length of time between the inversion of the curve and the onset of recession has historically varied from as little as 6 months to as long as 4 years.

Dourney agrees that an inverted yield curve is typically a reliable indicator of a future economic slowdown or recession, having inverted prior to the last 8 recessions. The team especially looks to the 10-year to 3-month yield curve, which has historically inverted on average a year before the start of a recession. The curve inverted last fall, signaling rising risk of recession in late 2023. However, historically, recession has followed the curve's inversion by anywhere between 4 and 21 months.

One less worry

One factor that suggests that any downturn could be mild is the recent moderation of energy prices. When the war between Ukraine and Russia began in 2022, high oil prices raised anxiety, putting noticeable pressure on many people’s budgets and raising questions about whether 1970s-style stagflation could return.

But over the past year, energy prices have come down to where they were before the war began and the chance of a 1970s-style oil shock now appears minimal. Rising tensions in the Middle East could still affect energy prices, but Director of Quantitative Market Strategy Denise Chisholm says that oil prices would need to rise to between $150 and $160 per barrel on a sustained basis to create the type of a shock that historically has been capable of tipping the economy into recession.

How should you invest now?

The evidence that a recession is not imminent is strong, but investors—like consumers—may remain anxious, and while stocks have historically fallen during recessions, they have returned almost 10% in the year after the yield curve inverted, says Chisholm.

What we know from history is that stocks have historically risen over time. That's why it's important that investors not react too strongly to predictions of what's going to come. Historically, when investors get out of the market because of fear of a downturn, it's rare for them to get back in at the right time, and this often leads to them missing out when things start to improve, which has historically often happened before a recession ends.

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This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.

Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

Stock markets are volatile and can fluctuate significantly in response to company, industry, political, regulatory, market, or economic developments. Investing in stock involves risks, including the loss of principal.

In general, the bond market is volatile, and fixed income securities carry interest rate risk. (As interest rates rise, bond prices usually fall, and vice versa. This effect is usually more pronounced for longer-term securities.) Fixed income securities also carry inflation risk, liquidity risk, call risk, and credit and default risks for both issuers and counterparties. Any fixed income security sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to loss.

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Views expressed are as of the date indicated, based on the information available at that time, and may change based on market or other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the speaker or author and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments or its affiliates. Fidelity does not assume any duty to update any of the information.

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