Tick, tock to global recession?
Every month, Merrill Lynch asks a few hundred fund managers around the world what they think of the state of things. Not surprisingly, this month’s survey is probably the gloomiest yet. Everyone, says Gary Baker, the strategist charged with explaining the poll, is a macro bear suffering from hyper risk-aversion.
Of particular note for readers of Macroscope this time is the finding that 84 percent of fund managers, more than four in five, say it is likely that the global economy will experience recession over the next 12 months. It is actually possible that the figure is greater than that, given the question’s definition of recession as two quarters of negative real GDP growth. That definition is fine for countries, but for the global economy it is a bit nebulous.
At least one should hope so. According to the International Monetary Fund, global GDP should end up having grown 3.9 percent at the end of this year and drop to 3.0 percent in 2009. Blistering growth in places like China may cool, but is still likely to keep the world economy in growth. So many fund managers may have been considering a less specific definition of global recession. The IMF informally used to think of it as below 3 percent growth, for example, but is not so keen on this now.
Whatever the definition, Merrill’s fund managers are pretty clear about one thing – the times have changed. Each month, their thoughts on where we are in the economic cycle are plotted on a kind of clock, where 12 is mid-cycle and 6 is recession. Until January this year, they spent 3-1/2 years between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock — essentially saying the economy was just past mid-cycle. The clock has ticked rapidly since January and is now at half past five.
All this begs a number of questions. 1) Are the fund managers right about recession, or are they just overreacting to massive losses on stocks markets? 2) Can Chinese growth continue to shore up the world’s? 3) If we are at 5:30, how long before the clock ticks to 6:35 and enters a new upward economic cycle?