- Sean Snaith predicts that the U.S. is on its way to a “Pasta Bowl Recession”
- This recession, he says, could come in gradually and ease up just as gradually, just like the shape of a pasta bowl
- He also adds that a “pasta bowl recession” could help the Federal Reserve fight inflation by reducing demand on supply chain snarls
- Many economists now believe we’re on our way to – or already in – a mild recession, though predictions vary
The U.S. economy is in a weird place. Despite continuous supply chain snarls, soaring inflation and declining consumer confidence, no one can quite agree if a recession looms on the horizon. While many economists predict that a recession could occur, conflicting economic data suggests we may bypass any significant downturn entirely.
But now, there’s a true expert to weigh in: the man who accurately forecasted the end of the Great Recession in 2009.
Sean Snaith is the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Forecasting. He’s also a national economist and widely considered an expert in economics, forecasting, analysis and market sizing.
Snaith’s quarterly reports and timely economic forecasts have prompted Bloomberg News to name him one of the country’s most accurate economic forecasters. And now, over a decade after coining “gravy boat recession,” he’s back with more food-related economic descriptors.
Enter: The pasta bowl re cession.
The Pasta Bowl Recession
In his latest economic forecast, Sean Snaith noted that it looks like the country is in for a roughly one-year-long recession. Furthermore, he predicts that such a mild economic decline is just what we need to get over our inflation woes.
A recession by any other name
The name “pasta bowl recession” comes from economists’ love of using metaphors to describe the shape of recessions. Often, this involves taking letters from the English alphabet, such as V-, U- and L-shaped recessions. (There’s also the W-shaped recession, or double-dip recession, which occurs when one recession follows another. Some have argued that we’re on track for a W-shaped recession in the next year.)
In his most recent economic analysis, Snaith noted that we appear to be headed toward something resembling a mild recession. But, given our unique circumstances, none of the aforementioned descriptors seemed an appropriate fit. So, he abandoned the more common alphabetical classification for another.
Snaith – who previously coined the term “gravy boat recession” – found that food-related terminology held the answer yet again. He wrote that after finding that “the English alphabet falls short of having a letter able to describe our projection… We are falling back on the culinary world to find a descriptor for the shape of this recession and recovery. So, without further ado, we give you: The pasta bowl recession.”
About the shape of things
So, why name a recession after common tableware?
Snaith explains that pasta bowls are “wide, low and shallow – essentially plates with high walls, boasting the best that both plates and bowls have to offer.”
And that’s exactly what he expects from an upcoming recession.
Snaith believes that the U.S. already has, or will shortly, slowly slip into a shallow recession. He predicts that it won’t be deep, but will likely last four quarters, representing “the wide part of the pasta bowl.”
Snaith also notes: “When we emerge from this recession there will not be a rocket-propelled recovery as we experienced in 2020. We will emerge slowly out of the pasta bowl in the same manner we went into it. This recession will begin and end with a whimper.”
All told, Snaith expects a potential recession to last around a year.
Expert predictions by the numbers
To examine the potential impacts of a Pasta Bowl Recession, let’s look at a few of Snaith’s economic predictions.
To start, Snaith forecasts that real gross domestic product (GDP) will see a slight easing before recovery. In 2020, GDP bottomed at -3.4% before soaring to 5.7% last year. Current models suggest that real GDP could ease up to 1.4% this year, contract in 2023 and 2024, and rise to 1.8% in 2025.
These fluctuations will likely be driven by consumer spending, which makes up around 69% of GDP. Plunging consumer confidence, 40-year-high inflation and uncertain 3-year inflation expectations are key reasons the economy could see a recession.
To accompany his GDP figures, Snaith sees consumption spending easing from 2021’s 7.9% high to 0.4% in 2023. By 2025, consumption spending could rise to 1.5%. Additionally, payroll job growth that hit 3.7% this year will likely drop as low as -1% by 2024 before recovering to around 0.6% in 2025.
Finally, Snaith notes that a tight housing market pockmarked by rising mortgage rates, high prices and ultra-low inventories continues to erode demand. He predicts that housing starts could decline around 0.2 million by next year, and that number could hover around this level for the next three years.
“The cure that heals what ails our economy”
Sean Snaith also predicts that a Pasta Bowl Recession “may also be just the cure that heals what ails our economy.”
In particular, Snaith sees a mild recession as a way to correct an overheated economy marred by sky-high prices and supply chain woes. In theory, a mild slowdown would give the Federal Reserve time to “bring inflation to heel” while giving the global supply chain time and space to straighten out.
And while past recessions have quite literally given economies pause, a Pasta Bowl Recession could come with far fewer economic and personal costs.
“Blood in the water”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the government initiated unprecedented fiscal stimulus to combat the effect of lockdowns.
At the same time, the Federal Reserve unleashed near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing. The result was an astronomical recovery in the financial markets and a balance sheet that ballooned to $8.9 trillion.
These policies “had the same effects as blood in the water does with sharks,” in part fueling the spending frenzy that continued nearly 18 months after lockdowns ended. This consumer spending helped power the economy out of the Covid-19 recession. Unfortunately, between high spending and supply chain snarls, it also contributed to spiking gas, food and housing costs.
Now, the Fed has to play catch-up – often in ways that negatively impact investors as it tries to ease consumers’ burdens. As a result of its belated response, Snaith sees the Fed hiking interest rates at each of its remaining 2022 meetings “in large increments.”
At the same time, the looming recession could give the Fed an assist, potentially permitting them to ease off rate hikes earlier than expected.
Millions of job openings could cushion the blow
With around 11.4 million job openings in the U.S. and a declining quits rate, employees have unprecedented job security. At the same time, an unprecedented employee’s market has put strong upward pressure on wages and salaries.
Going into a recession, that many openings isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Consider that prior to the 2001 recession, around 5.1 million jobs remained open. In the months before the Great Recession, that number declined slightly to 4.6 million.
That leaves our current situation with over double the job openings prior to a potential recession. With so many vacant positions, firms have the ability to eliminate opens instead of (or in addition to) conducting layoffs, allowing inflation to drop without catastrophically raising the unemployment rate.
Still, Snaith sees unemployment rising from 3.6% to 6.5% by late 2024 before beginning a gradual decline in 2025.
Is a recession likely?
Snaith believes that “the U.S. economy is very close to, if not already in, a recession.” However, no one has issued an official declaration (and that may not come until after the data is in, anyway).
Still, banks and economists continue to up the odds of a mild recession – though a consensus remains out of reach.
For instance, on Monday, Richard Kelly, head of global strategy at TD Securities, stated that the U.S. has a greater than 50% chance of seeing a recession in the next 18 months. He cites high fuel costs, a hawkish Fed and slowing economy among the greatest recessionary risks.
Similarly, Nomura released a report last month declaring a recession is “now likely.” And investment firm Muzinich believes that a recession isn’t an “if,” but a “when.”
On the other hand, David Roche, president of Independent Strategy, considers a recession a long way off, given that the U.S. job market remains strong. And roughly 30% of economists surveyed by Fortune think a recession won’t occur until 2024.
Despite the lack of consensus, economists predict that the Fed will gear up for more interest rate hikes. Many experts believe that June’s consumer price index will show elevated inflation of 8.8% year-over-year.
Gravy, pasta – you name it, we’re here for it
All this talk of food and recession makes us hungry – for an economy-proof portfolio.
Okay, so, there’s no such thing. And we know that there’s no way to predict a recession (or lack thereof) with perfect accuracy, no matter what it’s named after.
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