We are halfway through the year (where did the time go?) and it is time to make some predictions about the last half of the year. This week we look at what the leading indicators are telling us, size up a new indicator, drop in on banking data, and do a whole lot more.
Quickly, I will be on Larry Kudlow's show next Tuesday, which is at 7 pm Eastern. Larry has promised that we will spend some quality time on some of the current issues facing us. See you there! And now, let's jump in.
I am on record as saying I think there is a 50-50 chance we slip back into recession in 2011, as I think the economy will soften in the latter half of the year and a large tax increase in 2011 (from the expiring Bush tax cuts) will tip us into recession.
This was not based on data, but rather on research which shows that tax cuts or tax increases have as much as a 3-times multiplier effect on the economy. If you cut taxes by 1% of GDP then you get as much as a 3% boost in the economy. The reverse is true for tax increases. Christina Romer, Obama's head of the Council of Economic Advisors, did the research along with her husband, so this is not a Republican conclusion.
If the economy is growing at less than 2% by the end of the year, then a tax increase of more than 1% of GDP could and probably would be the tipping point. Add in an almost equal amount of state and local tax increases (and spending cuts) and you have the recipe for a full-blown recession - at least the way I see it.
I was asked at my recent speech in Milan, what sorts of things could make me wrong? There are a few. First, it could be that tax increases and cuts don't matter. Some very smart people (like Paul McCulley) feel that tax increases on the wealthy don't really figure into Romer's analysis.
The Risk of Recession
Or maybe bank lending starts to pick up and the economy is actually growing at 3-4% by the end of the year - although the chart below suggests that bank lending is still in freefall. Notice that if this trend continues just a little while longer, bank lending will have fallen by 25% in about two years. This is a truly scary chart. It is unprecedented in modern history. Also notice…