The Economic Cycle Research Institute’s weekly leading index jumped last week to its highest level since September 9, the consultancy reports. Nonetheless, the self-proclaimed “leading authority on business cycles” continues to forecast a recession for the U.S., as ECRI’s co-founder, Lakshman Achuthan, explained yesterday on Bloomberg TV.
If macro trouble awaits, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the latest measure of sentiment among Joe Sixpack and friends. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment increased to a six-month high. Optimists will be quick to note that there’s more than one study that links consumer sentiment readings with consumption. But Paul Dales of Capital Economics warns not to read too much into the rise. “U.S. consumers appear to be ending the year in a better mood,” he says. “Although the recent increase may provide that little bit of support to spending in the malls in the coming weeks, it won’t lead to a long and lasting acceleration in consumption growth.”
Still, it’s tempting to wonder if the recent slump in momentum is passing. Or is the uptick that’s now also reflected in ECRI’s weekly index nothing more than a temporary flirtation with growth?
One reason for staying cautious is the precarious state of Europe, which increasingly looks destined for a new recession. “Fiscal tightening plus credit tightening and the confidence impact of the sovereign crisis point to recession” in Europe, predicts Sarah Hewin, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank. Indeed, some corners of Europe have already succumbed to the Continental pressures of austerity. The R word is also being applied to other economies around the world, including Brazil, which witnessed a slight contraction in its third-quarter GDP.
The U.S. is at risk of getting sucked into the cyclical vortex, warns New York University economist Nouriel Roubini. If so, the statistical smoking guns will be here soon, or so one would think. But not yet. The numbers for the American economy don’t yet look convincingly threatening. There is, of course, always next week.