Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Sep 28, 2022

The Narrowing Path for a Soft Landing


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ellen Zentner, Morgan Stanley's Chief U.S. Economist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll discuss the narrowing path for a soft landing for the U.S. economy. It's Wednesday, September 28, at 10 a.m. in New York.

[00:00:18] Last week, we revised our outlook to reflect the expectation that the Fed will take its policy rate to a higher peak between 4.5% to 4.75% by early next year. And that's 75 basis points additional tightening than what we had envisioned previously. Tighter policy should push the real economy further below potential and substantially slow job gains. And while higher interest rates are needed to create that additional slack in the economy, this dynamic raises the risk of recession. There's still a path to a soft landing here, but it seems clear to us that path has narrowed.

[00:00:50] Now beyond directly interest sensitive sectors such as housing and durable goods, we've seen little evidence that the real economy is responding to the Fed's policy tightening. Just think about how strong monthly job gains remain in the range of 300,000. So in the absence of a broader slowdown, and facing persistent core inflation pressures such as a worrisome acceleration in rental prices, the Fed is on track to continue tightening at a faster pace than we had originally anticipated. Looking to the November meeting, we expect the Fed to hike rates by 75 basis points, and then begin to step down the pace of those rate hikes to 50 basis points in December and 25 basis points in January. We then expect the Fed to stay on hold until the first 25 basis point rate cut in December 2023.

[00:01:33] While inflation has remained stubborn, the growth environment has softened, and the lagged effect of monetary policy on economic activity points to further slowing ahead. So in response to substantially more drag from higher interest rates, we've lowered our 2023 growth forecast to just 0.5%. We then think a mild recovery sets in in the second half of 2023, but growth remains well below potential all year.

[00:01:57] In our forecast, weakness in economic activity will be spread more broadly, and monetary policy acts with a 2 to 3 quarter lag on interest rate sensitive sectors such as durable goods. So the sharper slowdown we envision in 2023 predominantly reflects a downshift in consumption growth. Business investment also tends to respond with a lag and will become a negative for growth in the first half of 2023.

[00:02:21] With growth falling more rapidly below potential, the labor market is on track to follow suit. We now see job gains bottoming at 55,000 per month by the middle of 2023. So not turning negative but substantially below the replacement rate, which means the minimum amount of jobs needed in order to keepthe unemployment rate steady. Lower job growth in combination with a rising participation rate, lifts the unemployment rate further to 4.4% by the end of next year.

[00:02:46] Inflation pressures have still not turned decisively lower, in particular because of rising shelter costs. High frequency measures point to eventual deceleration, though it should be gradual, even as the labor market loosens on below potential growth. We see core PCE inflation at 4.6% on a year over year basis in the fourth quarter of this year, and slow to 3.1% year over year in the fourth quarter of next year. So inflation is a good deal lower by the end of next year, but that's still too high to allow for rate cuts much before the end of 2023.

[00:03:17] Turning to risks, we think the risk to the outlook and monetary policy path now skew to the downside and a policy mistake is coming into focus. We continue to see a path to a soft landing, but the road looks narrower. At the Fed's current pace of tightening uncertainty as to how the economy will respond a few months down the line is high. The labor market tends to be slow moving, but we and frankly monetary policymakers have no experience with interest rate changes of this magnitude. And activity could come to a halt faster than expected. Essentially, the higher the peak rate of interest the Fed aims for, the greater the risk of recession.

[00:03:48] We are already moving through sustained below potential GDP growth. We now need to see job gains slow materially over the next few months to ease the pressure on the pace of policy tightening.

[00:03:59] Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today.

As the Fed continues to increase their peak rate of interest, the path for a soft landing narrows, so what deflationary indicators need to show up in the real economy to take the pressure off of policy tightening?

In this addition to the Thoughts on the Market series, Chief U.S. Economist Ellen Zentner translates the sometimes complex world of economics, helping investors identify early indicators of market-moving trends. 

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