Slow Burn

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / cafaphotos

We are now in the 7th year of economic expansion and recovery since the last recession. Many commentators insist that after such a long stretch, the next recession must surely be right around the corner. Of course, they’ve been insisting this for the past 7 years–remember the term “double dip”? The recovery didn’t make it a full year before people started predicting its demise, and now here we are seven years later.

Part of the longstanding skepticism surrounding this market cycle is grounded in the weak performance of this expansion. It’s been a long, slow recovery since the recession started in 2008. In a lot of people’s minds, those two things don’t go together. They think, “The recovery is going slowly, so it must not have enough fuel to keep going for very long.” There is a certain intuitive appeal to this way of thinking. We tend to see something moving quickly as having more momentum, so it would take longer to come to a stop.

The economy doesn’t really work in terms of “momentum”, though. Instead, market cycles tend to be driven by sentiment. In a normal expansion phase, optimism feeds into faster and faster growth, eventually creating a bubble. When the bubble finally pops at the height of its exuberance, values plummet and the economy is likely to plunge into recession.

You can think of it in terms of an out of control fire. The bigger it gets, the stronger it gets—but the faster it burns through its fuel. A raging conflagration will consume its fuel and die down to embers faster than a more contained fire.

In this analogy the current economic cycle has been a slow, cautious burn. The fire is burning away quietly but hasn’t really erupted into a general blaze—pessimism is widespread and we haven’t really seen the kind of manic stampede that marked the last days of the previous few expansions.

We never know how much fuel there is left for our “fire.” The expansion must eventually run itself down, but this may be a matter of months or days or years—we can’t be sure. However, we view the slow pace of recovery as an indicator that there may be a good bit of fuel yet untouched.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.