Recession not imminent, says JP Morgan's Ward

Recession not imminent, says JP Morgan's Ward

Markets may be fearing a recession in the US, but there are no signs that an economic downturn is imminent, according to Karen Ward, chief market strategist at JP Morgan.

Ms Ward said there are a number of "catalysts" that economists look for as signs of imminent recessions, including household debt levels rising very quickly, and unemployment rising.

But she said with none of those signs evident in the economy, "there is no reason to believe" that a recession will happen within twelve months, though she does expect growth to slow.

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She said: "Two developments this year have made a big difference to the growth outlook, the decision of the US Federal Reserve to pause on interest rate rises, and the Chinese government policy of stimulating the economy.

"Chinese policy makers were trying to slow the economy down, but then the trade war came alongside it, and that maybe made the slowdown go too far, and that impacted the rest of the world."

Ms Ward said the uncertainty levels in financial markets are such that investors should focus on stocks that have defensive characteristics and low debt levels.

Markets have in recent weeks began to price very low growth, with the price of safe haven asset classes such as German and US government bonds rising sharply.

This is because the market reacted to the decision of the US Federal Reserve, that country’s central bank, to pause on interest rate rises, as a sign that growth would deteriorate from here.  

Jacob De Tusch-Lec, who runs the £4bn Artemis Global Income fund, said bond investors are currently acting as if a recession is a "certainty".

He noted that the bond yield curve in the US inverted, that is, bonds with a very short date to maturity began to trade at a higher yield than those with a longer date to maturity.

Every time this has happened over the past 60 years a recession has followed within a year.

But Mr De Tusch-Lec said in a letter to investors yesterday (April 11): "We are not too sure that these classic bond indicators have the same level of predictability in this cycle, given the potential distortions created by the unwinding of QE."

He added that equity market investors have reacted to the uncertainty by buying more defensive shares, but he said the market conditions of recent months were similar to those of 2016, when investors turned defensive, and ultimately it proved to be the wrong decision.  

For this reason he continues to hold stocks that are less defensive in nature.

Anthony Rayner, who co-manages £900m of assets across four multi-asset funds at Miton, said some of the economic data to emerge from China and the US over the past month has been better than expected, leading to a situation where policy makers in both of those economies are keeping interest rates low, while stock market returns have been strong.