The US economy continues to grow despite recurring recession scares. By my count, they’ve triggered 65 panic attacks in the stock market since the start of the bull market during March 2009. (See our S&P 500 Panic Attacks Since 2009 chart book and table.) The panic attacks—which include both corrections and mini-selloffs—have been followed by relief rallies. As a result, the S&P 500 remains near its record high of 3025.86 on 7/26 (Fig. 1). The current economic expansion became the longest one on record during July of this year. It has now lasted 124 months. I expect it will continue through 2020. The main risk might be a radical regime change if President Donald Trump is defeated by one of the Democratic socialist candidates come the November 2020 election. Then again, our Founders
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The current economic expansion became the longest one on record during July of this year. It has now lasted 124 months. I expect it will continue through 2020. The main risk might be a radical regime change if President Donald Trump is defeated by one of the Democratic socialist candidates come the November 2020 election. Then again, our Founders reduced the chances that a radical president could be too radical by designing a constitutional system based on checks and balances.
I was intrigued and puzzled by the strange interview on CNBC with Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller a week ago on Friday. He said a recession may be years away due to Trump’s bullish impact on the economy. Shiller is a behavioral finance expert who apparently believes that consumers are following the President’s lead: “I think that [strong consumer spending] has to do with the inspiration for many people provided by our motivational speaker president who models luxurious living.” That’s certainly a different spin on the Trump presidency than I’ve heard before.
Shiller also said that the next recession may not hit for another three years, and it could be mild. If the economy remains strong, Shiller expects Trump to be re-elected.
Shiller coined the phrase “irrational exuberance” and correctly anticipated the bear market of 2000 because his CAPE valuation ratio was too high. He also correctly predicted the bear market in home prices that led to the Great Financial Crisis. His CAPE ratio is bearish again, yet he is bullish on the economy and the stock market.
In my opinion, consumers are doing what they do best because their real disposable incomes are growing along with employment and real wages. Consider the following:
(1) Growing wages driving consumer spending. My Earned Income Proxy for private-sector wages and salaries rose 4.2% y/y to a new record high during September, while retail sales rose 4.1% (Fig. 2). Trump’s policies of deregulation and tax cuts undoubtedly contributed to the strength in personal income.
(2) Trade wars and impeachment hearing causing uncertainty. On the other hand, Trump’s trade wars have created lots of economic uncertainty. So has his eccentric style of governing, which has led the House Democrats to start an impeachment hearing. The Democratic candidates all seem to favor higher taxes, including taxes on wealth.
(3) Consumers saving more. As a result, personal saving has soared. The 12-month sum of personal saving jumped by $335 billion from $969 billion during November 2017, when Trump was elected, to a record $1.3 trillion during August (Fig. 3). Over that same period, the personal saving rate rose from 6.5% to 8.1% (Fig. 4).
(4) Income growing faster than spending. Real disposable personal income has been growing faster than real personal consumption expenditures since May 2017 (Fig. 5). Since then through August, the former is up 7.8%, while the latter is up 6.6%.
I don’t disagree with Shiller on the longevity of the current economic expansion. However, I doubt that Trump’s lavish lifestyle is the role model for 99% of American consumers. The wealthiest 1% may be cutting back on their extravagant lifestyles and doing most of the saving, figuring that if Trump loses, they will be paying lots more in taxes.