Mark Hulbert: Can the Fed prevent a recession?

by | Feb 7, 2023 | Stock Market

The Federal Reserve’s policy pivots are consistently a day late and a dollar short. Just take the last four decades: In the case of each of the recessions over this period, the economy started contracting several months after the Federal Reserve stopped raising rates and began to cut them. Even though their policy reversals came well advance, the economy nevertheless slipped into a recession.

What gives the bulls confidence that the Fed will react quickly enough this time around? It’s always possible that the Fed might have learned its lesson. But we shouldn’t forget that “this time is different” are the four most dangerous words on Wall Street. Consider the four recessions that have occurred since the Fed began targeting the fed-funds rate, in the mid-1980s. On average, the Fed stopped its rate-hike cycle 15 months in advance of when those recessions began. The shortest lead time was 10 months, in the case of the recession that began in March 2001. The longest lead time, at nearly 18 months, came prior to the Global Financial Crisis. (In calculating these lead times, I am focusing on when the National Bureau of Economic Research—the semiofficial keeper of the recession calendar—said the recessions actually began. I am not focusing on the dates on which the NBER publicly announced those start dates, which came much later.) Note carefully that on these dates when the F …

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