Fears of recession spike among CEOs

A review of data  by Reuters shows more CEOs and financial managers worried about a  recession this year than at any time since 2009.

So far this year, the number of companies whose executives have mentioned recession concerns to analysts and investors is up 33 percent from the same period a year ago; the first such increase since 2009. Some 92 companies have discussed a U.S. recession in their earnings calls, according to Thomson Reuters data.

That gloomy talk highlights worries that growth in the world's largest economy may be coming to a halt. Gross domestic product grew 0.7 percent in the final quarter of 2015, down from 2 percent in the third quarter, while double the number of companies are cutting or flat-lining their capital spending in the year ahead, according to Reuters data. The benchmark S&P 500, a leading indicator of economic strength, had its worst January since 2009 as oil tumbled below $30 a barrel and remained near 12-year lows.

While nearly all companies that have discussed recession say that U.S. consumers continue to look healthy, many are growing concerned that the steep declines in energy prices and job cuts in the industry are going to bleed into the larger economy. Overall, economists expect the U.S. economy to grow 2.4 percent in 2016, according to a Dec. 30 Reuters poll.

Richard Fairbank, chief executive of Capital One Financial Co., for example, said he sees a recession as increasingly likely if financial market turmoil spreads into the real economy.

"Obviously, the economy is something of a wild card," he said.

"Perhaps the consumer economy is doing okay, but there is a depression in the energy economy and it feels like there is a general malaise if not a recession looming in the industrial and manufacturing economies,” David Grzebinski, chief executive of tank barge operator Kirby Co told analysts.

And household hardware maker Stanley Black & Decker Inc chief financial officer Don Allan told analysts that the company was prepared to cut jobs and pullback spending in the event of a slowdown.

It should be noted that the financial news industry likes nothing better than to report on doom and gloom.  No one wants to read how well the economy is performing.  That's boring.

But good old-fashioned recession scare stories are a staple of the business pages.  It's an economics version of "If it bleeds, it leads."

Having said that, there are, in fact, serious problems besides the collapse in oil prices and the tanking of the stock market.  The world's second biggest economy is in big trouble, and the efforts by the Chinese government to prop up equities by purchasing tens of billions in stocks isn't working.  The Chinese downturn threatens the other emerging economies in Asia upon which the industrialized countries depend on to purchase their exports. 

Closer to home is a worrisome sign from the Federal Reserve.  Zero Hedge Blog reports on the prospect for negative interest rates:

Over the past year, and certainly in the aftermath of the BOJ's both perplexing and stunning announcement (as it revealed the central banks' level of sheer desperation), we have warned (most recently "Negative Rates In The U.S. Are Next: Here's Why In One Chart")  that next in line for negative rates is the Fed itself, whether Janet Yellen wants it or not. Today, courtesy of Wolf Richter, we find that this is precisely what is already in the small print of the Fed's future stress test scenarios, and specifically the "severely adverse scenario" where we read that:

The severely adverse scenario is characterized by a severe global recession, accompanied by a period of heightened corporate financial stress and negative yields for short-term U.S. Treasury securities.

As a result of the severe decline in real activity and subdued inflation, short-term Treasury rates fall to negative ½ percent by mid-2016 and remain at that level through the end of the scenario.

And so the strawman has been laid. The only missing is the admission of the several global recession, although with global GDP plunging over 5% in USD terms, we wonder just what else those who make the official determination are waiting for.

Finally, we disagree with the Fed that QE4 is not on the table: it most certainly will be once stock markets plunge by 50% as the "severely adverse scenario" envisions, and once NIRP fails to boost economic activity, as it has failed previously everywhere else it has been tried, the Fed will promtply proceed with what has worked before, if only to make the true situation that much worse.

Until then, we sit back and wait. 

There aren't too many silver linings out there at the moment.  Then again, only 20% of U.S. economists are predicting a recession for 2016.  But with the economygrowing only 0.7% in the fourth quarter, anything is possible going forward.

A review of data  by Reuters shows more CEOs and financial managers worried about a  recession this year than at any time since 2009.

So far this year, the number of companies whose executives have mentioned recession concerns to analysts and investors is up 33 percent from the same period a year ago; the first such increase since 2009. Some 92 companies have discussed a U.S. recession in their earnings calls, according to Thomson Reuters data.

That gloomy talk highlights worries that growth in the world's largest economy may be coming to a halt. Gross domestic product grew 0.7 percent in the final quarter of 2015, down from 2 percent in the third quarter, while double the number of companies are cutting or flat-lining their capital spending in the year ahead, according to Reuters data. The benchmark S&P 500, a leading indicator of economic strength, had its worst January since 2009 as oil tumbled below $30 a barrel and remained near 12-year lows.

While nearly all companies that have discussed recession say that U.S. consumers continue to look healthy, many are growing concerned that the steep declines in energy prices and job cuts in the industry are going to bleed into the larger economy. Overall, economists expect the U.S. economy to grow 2.4 percent in 2016, according to a Dec. 30 Reuters poll.

Richard Fairbank, chief executive of Capital One Financial Co., for example, said he sees a recession as increasingly likely if financial market turmoil spreads into the real economy.

"Obviously, the economy is something of a wild card," he said.

"Perhaps the consumer economy is doing okay, but there is a depression in the energy economy and it feels like there is a general malaise if not a recession looming in the industrial and manufacturing economies,” David Grzebinski, chief executive of tank barge operator Kirby Co told analysts.

And household hardware maker Stanley Black & Decker Inc chief financial officer Don Allan told analysts that the company was prepared to cut jobs and pullback spending in the event of a slowdown.

It should be noted that the financial news industry likes nothing better than to report on doom and gloom.  No one wants to read how well the economy is performing.  That's boring.

But good old-fashioned recession scare stories are a staple of the business pages.  It's an economics version of "If it bleeds, it leads."

Having said that, there are, in fact, serious problems besides the collapse in oil prices and the tanking of the stock market.  The world's second biggest economy is in big trouble, and the efforts by the Chinese government to prop up equities by purchasing tens of billions in stocks isn't working.  The Chinese downturn threatens the other emerging economies in Asia upon which the industrialized countries depend on to purchase their exports. 

Closer to home is a worrisome sign from the Federal Reserve.  Zero Hedge Blog reports on the prospect for negative interest rates:

Over the past year, and certainly in the aftermath of the BOJ's both perplexing and stunning announcement (as it revealed the central banks' level of sheer desperation), we have warned (most recently "Negative Rates In The U.S. Are Next: Here's Why In One Chart")  that next in line for negative rates is the Fed itself, whether Janet Yellen wants it or not. Today, courtesy of Wolf Richter, we find that this is precisely what is already in the small print of the Fed's future stress test scenarios, and specifically the "severely adverse scenario" where we read that:

The severely adverse scenario is characterized by a severe global recession, accompanied by a period of heightened corporate financial stress and negative yields for short-term U.S. Treasury securities.

As a result of the severe decline in real activity and subdued inflation, short-term Treasury rates fall to negative ½ percent by mid-2016 and remain at that level through the end of the scenario.

And so the strawman has been laid. The only missing is the admission of the several global recession, although with global GDP plunging over 5% in USD terms, we wonder just what else those who make the official determination are waiting for.

Finally, we disagree with the Fed that QE4 is not on the table: it most certainly will be once stock markets plunge by 50% as the "severely adverse scenario" envisions, and once NIRP fails to boost economic activity, as it has failed previously everywhere else it has been tried, the Fed will promtply proceed with what has worked before, if only to make the true situation that much worse.

Until then, we sit back and wait. 

There aren't too many silver linings out there at the moment.  Then again, only 20% of U.S. economists are predicting a recession for 2016.  But with the economygrowing only 0.7% in the fourth quarter, anything is possible going forward.