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5 Questionable Arguments Against the Double-Dip

July 7, 2010

Don’t tell George Costanza, but double dipping is all the rage these days. The possibility of the U.S. slipping back into recession after a brief period of growth is a hot topic of late – and while such an occurrence is unlikely, pundits are feverishly declaring that it can’t and won’t happen. 

Here are some of their reasons, some of which appear to strain credulity: 

  1. Double-dips are “rare.” Simon Hobbs of CNBC is a vigorous promoter of this idea, but let’s face it, the last 15 years of financial-market history is a veritable compendium things that no one expected to happen – LTCM, the financial panic, Lehman Brothers. Rare means nothing.
  2. The stock market hasn’t dropped enough. Ah yes, the stock market, that stellar indicator of the economy’s future, such as in October 2007, when it hit an all-time high, two months before the onset of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Next.
  3. The yield curve hasn’t flattened enough. This indicator comes with a bit more in the way of history, as a flattened/inverted yield curve has been a reliable indicator of economic weakness ahead. But the Federal Reserve is anchoring the short end of the curve to the ground with its zero interest rate policy. It complicates the curve’s predictive value – something Goldman Sachs noted in a morning commentary.
  4. “External shocks” are responsible for the declines in economic activity, such as that in Europe. Similar shocks were enough to spark recessions in the 1930s, 1970s, and in 2008. Everything’s connected now, remember?
  5. Corporate profits are strong. As they were all the way through the beginning of 2007, once again, before the most recent eruption.  

A recent Reuters poll put the odds of a double-dip recession at about 15 percent. Gluskin Sheff’s bearish strategist David Rosenberg puts it around 50-50, and Jim Bianco of Bianco Research also put that kind of odds on it. It may not happen – but when a lot of people are trying to convince you that something’s not going to happen, it can make you believe that it’s more likely than not.

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    "David Gaffen oversees the stocks team, having joined Reuters in May 2009. He spent four years at the Wall Street Journal, where he was the original writer of the web site's MarketBeat blog. He has appeared on Fox Business, CNN International, NPR, and assorted other media and is the author of the forthcoming book "Never Buy Another Stock Again.""
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