U.S. corporate sales and profits decreased in the third quarter for the first time since 2009. Is a recession possible in the U.S.? How could it affect the gold market?
Profits and revenues are falling in tandem for the first time in six years. Sales are expected to fall 4 percent, while earnings per share are likely to decline 2.8 percent (so far, only a third of S&P 500 companies have reported). Although some companies – mainly in services and car sales – remain robust, the industrial environment’s (railroad, energy producers, manufacturers) looks really recessionary. Yesterday’s report on durable goods orders leaves no doubt. New orders for manufactured durable goods decreased in September 1.2 percent. On an annual basis, durable goods orders are down for the eighth consecutive month. Following this report, the GDPNow forecast for GDP growth in the third quarter decreased to 0.8 percent from 0.9 percent.
What is a bit surprising, given the low oil prices, is that transportation also looks weaker than expected, due to the manufacturers’ lower demand for cargo. So much for the idea that the industrial slowdown will not spill over to the whole economy. And, just as a reminder, transportation is typically a leading indicator.
The question is whether the U.S. economy as a whole is heading into recession. Well, we have a sales recession, earnings recession, industrial recession and transportation recession. What’s left? Such developments typically accompany economic recessions. However, there were exceptions when the economy expanded but corporate profits temporarily fell, mainly due to a strong U.S. dollar or low oil prices – factors present also today.
To sum up, there is no recession yet, but investors should not ignore the growing weakness in the manufacturing sector. Financial markets often underestimate an economic slowdown, but it does not mean that the real economy is not on the threshold of a bust. A full-blown recession would certainly be positive for the gold market, especially that the Fed is running out of ammunition. So far, negative economic forces are too limited to qualify as an official NBER recession, but they may be enough for postponing or even abandoning the idea of monetary tightening. This is good news for the gold market.
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