OTTAWA — Investors run for cover, consumers quake and economists wonder if, two years after the deepest recession since the Great Depression, we are on the precipice of another pullback.
The prognosticators of doom, including U.S. economist Nouriel Roubini, predict “we’re going into a recession,” adding that governments have run out of options or the will to prevent it.
But a lot of the data is telling a different story, one that shows the U.S., Canadian and global economies are stumbling, but not falling.
Thursday was a typical case of what on the surface appears to be a disconnect between fear and fact.
While the world waited to see if President Barack Obama’s speech Thursday night on job creation can soothe market wounds, the United States and Canada reported robust export numbers that by themselves should have done the trick. As well, Statistics Canada said building permits, indicative of builders’ confidence of future sales, rose to near record levels in July.
On the same day, however, Harris-Decima Research released the latest consumer confidence survey showing households on both sides of the border continued to experience palpitations. Confidence fell more than six points to 77.5 in Canada last month, and plunged to 55.7 in the U.S.
Just over one in 10 Canadians saw good times ahead for the economy in the next year. Twice as many foresaw bad times.
Other recent data points have tended to be along the same line. Consumer spending in Canada and the U.S. appears to be holding up; consumer confidence is plunging.
And that may be a big part of the problem, say some economists. While these are not the best of times, investors and consumers are assuming that we are entering the worst of times.
If we are not careful, says Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist with BMO Capital Markets, we could talk ourselves into a recession.
“When you carefully look at all the figures we have for July and a few figures we have for August, there’s plenty of evidence that the global economy has slowed, but nothing close the kind of trauma that’s been reflected in financial markets,” he says.
“It’s almost as if financial markets have all but thrown in the towel on the recovery and pricing in a recession.”
Part of the loss of confidence occurred because of what Porter termed the “artificial crisis” in August over whether the White House and Congress could come up with a way to stop the U.S. from technically defaulting on its debt. Few thought a default would occur, but is sowed the seeds of doubt whether the world’s biggest economy had its act together.
Even Porter admits the underlying difficulties in the global economy are real. The European debt crisis will strangle growth in that continent for years to come, and Washington’s fiscal difficulties, while not insurmountable, will also take a toll on growth.
But he adds, everyone has known for some time the recovery would be a long, slow slog.
In Canada, one of the most pessimistic of Bay Street economists is Derek Holt. Scotiabank’s vice-president of economics was one of the earliest to warn about a possible slump in Canada in the summer of 2008 and says his colleagues may be overly sanguine about the future now as well.
Not only is a recession possible, Canada could be in one right now, he says. A recession is technically defined as two negative quarters of growth. Canada’s economy slipped 0.4 per cent in the second quarter, and could also come in negative in the third, which concludes at the end of this month.