One thing we must remember when looking at economic data, is that everything is distorted. The US (in fact, much of the world) panicked in 2020. COVID caused governments around the world to implement unprecedented policies. The US borrowed, printed, and spent its way through the lockdowns. We believe, and we don’t think it’s hard to understand, that the economic bill for these policies, is soon coming due.

We don’t expect a recession like in 2020, or a repeat of the Great Recession in 2008-09, but the unemployment rate will eventually go up, job growth will go negative, industrial production will fall, and so will corporate profits. At that point we won’t have a big debate about whether we’re in a recession; everyone will know it.

In the meantime, before a real recession sets in sometime in 2023 or early 2024, many people will believe the recession is already here. Especially, as the shift away from goods and toward services gathers steam.

Right before COVID started, in February 2020, “real” (inflation-adjusted) consumer spending on services was 64% of all real consumer spending. With the economy locked down, services fell to 59% of spending by March 2021. That five percentage point decline represented roughly $700 billion of spending. Consumers have clawed some of that back with services now up to 62% of total spending, with big recoveries in health care, recreation, travel, restaurants, bars, and hotels. And, we expect this trend to continue.

Yes, companies like Peloton and Carvana, where investors apparently projected COVID-related trends to persist, have gotten hammered. Some look at layoffs at these companies, and others in similar straights, as a sign that recession is already here. But these aren’t macro-related developments; they are a realignment of economic activity from a distorted world to a more normal one.

Another distortion from COVID policies was a big drop in labor force participation, which is the share of adults who are either working or looking for work. The participation rate was 63.4% in 2020 but now, even though the unemployment rate is back down to the pre-COVID low of 3.5%, participation is only 62.1%.