President Joe Biden formally kicked off his 2024 reelection campaign this week by declaring, “I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future.”
Wall Street isn’t sharing his enthusiasm.
Across the financial industry, the overwhelming consensus is that the economy will struggle this year, with more than a dozen big banks in recent weeks forecasting little or no growth — or even a recession — as the Federal Reserve drives up interest rates to kill inflation.
And fresh risks loom for Biden’s reelection campaign economy, including a potentially market-shaking fight over raising the debt limit and the risk of a banking industry meltdown that’s causing lenders to tighten up on credit.
“The U.S. economy is unwell, and it’s starting to show,” Gregory Daco, chief economist at EY-Parthenon, tweeted Thursday morning.
The government’s latest GDP report Thursday underlined those concerns. The Commerce Department reported the economy expanded by just 1.1 percent in the first three months of the year, well below expectations of 2 percent growth and down from 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.
Biden’s bullish comments echoed President Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” reelection theme from 1984. Yet unlike then, the economy is clearly slowing now, presenting Biden with a potential hurdle to his securing a second term.
Still, the GDP report included some bright spots, including continued strong consumer spending, which drives about two-thirds of economic growth. And the economy has remained remarkably resilient, adding over 300,000 jobs per month in the first quarter, something Biden noted in comments on the growth figures on Thursday.
“Today, we learned that the American economy remains strong, as it transitions to steady and stable growth,” the president said in a prepared statement. “This past quarter, real personal disposable income increased and American consumers continued to spend, even as the overall pace of growth moderated.”
Yet most Wall Street banks and many economists — even left-leaning allies of Biden — predict a downshift once the impact of all the Fed rate hikes works through the system along with the fallout from tighter credit standards.
“We continue to expect economic growth to slow, and we are preparing for a range of scenarios,” Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said on the bank’s recent first-quarter earnings call.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said on a call last week: “We see and our experts see a mild recession coming.”
Similar comments are peppering earnings calls across the finance industry. Few executives are predicting a major decline in the economy, but many believe the long run of modest or better growth will finally come to a close with the jobless rate starting to rise again from record lows.
And even some Biden allies like former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers are warning that the economy will have to decline significantly to finally break the back of inflation.
“I think we’re going to have difficulty getting near a 2 percent inflation target until and unless the economy slows down substantially,” Summers said at an investment conference this week.
The latest reading on the economy was driven by a declining housing industry slammed by higher interest rates. Consumer spending remained resilient but is also likely to come under more pressure as Covid-era savings run out and inflation continues to pinch wallets. And the report showed inflation rising, not falling as the Fed expects, meaning another rate hike is likely when central bank policymakers meet next week.
“This morning’s data was the worst of both worlds, with growth down and inflation up,” Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance, said in a client note.
And even Biden, in his reelection announcement, acknowledged that while he envisions greater prosperity ahead, he is aware of the risks, including prices that remain too high.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do, though,” he told union workers. “I know folks are struggling with inflation,” he said, but added that “it’s a global problem.”
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