Albert Edwards on the problems facing the US, Italy and China

Expect a recession in the next 18 months, said Albert Edwards. Bond yields will converge with those in Germany and will go negative. The economy will be in deflation – or at least face a significant deflationary “scare.” Those factors, he said, will create a terrific opportunity for fixed-income investors.

Edwards is the global strategist for Société Générale and is based in London. He spoke at his firm’s annual investment conference in London on January 15. Also speaking were Andrew Lapthorne, who runs quantitative analysis for the firm, and Gerard Minack, an Australian-based global strategist.

In addition to his forecast for the U.S. economy and markets, Edwards said two countries are poised to deliver destabilizing shocks to global growth: Italy and Japan.

The ice age and the threat of a recession

Edwards is known for his “ice age” thesis, which posited that, beginning in 1996, the correlation between bond and stock yields would break down, and 10-year bonds would outperform stocks. His template was Japan and its lost decade of growth, which began in 1990. While his forecast has been largely accurate, he noted that it has been disrupted by quantitative easing (QE) since 2011. Now, with the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan all tightening, he expects the ice age to continue.

But Edwards cautioned against underestimating the effect of central-bank tightening. Recessions are more likely to be caused by events in the markets – not the other way around, he said, as is commonly assumed.

The economist Brad de Long has noted that three of last four recessions were from unforeseen shocks in financial markets (the collapse of the dot-com bubble, the real estate bubble and the S&L crisis). The exception was the 1979-1982 recession. Edwards pointed out that the very minor episode of quantitative easing (QT) that started in October 2018 caused a very rapid unwinding of equity valuations – illustrating the outsized effect such actions can have on markets.