The U.S. economy will continue to recover until at least 2015 without tumbling into a recession, achieving the sustained growth that has eluded it since the last slump ended four years ago, according to a Bloomberg poll.
With the economy creating an average of 208,000 jobs a month since November, 69 percent of those surveyed call the recovery “sustainable” while 27 percent anticipate a new recession within two years, according to the global poll of investors, analysts and traders who are Bloomberg subscribers.
“I expect growth to accelerate,” says respondent Brandon Fitzpatrick, 35, a portfolio manager for D.B. Fitzpatrick in Boise, Idaho. “Consumers’ balance sheets are improving, and consumption is set to pick up.”
The prospect of increasing energy independence, a rise in home values after years of decline and a pause in the partisan budgetary battles in Washington are driving investor sentiment.
Real estate, the epicenter of the 2008 financial crisis, is a big part of the optimism. Even after yesterday’s reported drop in April’s housing starts, homebuilders began work on 853,000 new homes, up 78 percent from the April 2009 low. After watching the housing crash erase more than $7 trillion worth of wealth, homeowners have recovered about $2 trillion in real estate holdings, according to Federal Reserve data.
In the poll, 71 percent of Bloomberg customers say the recent home-price increase in major U.S. markets is evidence of a genuine recovery in values; 21 percent say it’s a sign that a new bubble is inflating.
“Anyone who isn’t long real estate housing is a moron,” says Stan Jonas, 64, managing partner of Axiom Management Partners in New York, speaking before the April figures were released.
If the poll consensus is correct, the expansion will eventually exceed the 58-month length of the average postwar recovery, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Equity markets reflect the optimism: The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index has risen 25 percent over the past year, including 16 percent in 2013.
The poll was taken as the $85 billion government spending cuts known as sequestration are starting to bite. After growing at a 2.5 percent rate in the first three months of 2013, the economy will slow to a 1.6 percent pace in the current quarter, according to forecasts by economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
Global investors have noticed. By a 49 percent to 40 percent margin, they say the sequestration has had a negative effect upon the U.S. investment climate.
With President Barack Obama’s administration mired in controversies over the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department seizure of Associated Press reporters’ telephone records, and the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack, the economic brightening provides the president some good news.
Obama’s 58 percent favorability rating is its highest in the Bloomberg customer poll since January 2010, though among U.S. respondents the president draws only 35 percent. Thirty-seven percent of global respondents have an unfavorable view. Fifty-two percent say they are optimistic about Obama’s policies, compared with 42 percent who say they’re pessimistic.
“President Obama has benefited from tough decisions taken early in his first term with regard to the stability of the U.S. financial sector,” said Nessan O’Carroll, 40, co-head of emerging markets derivatives risks solutions for Mizuho Corporate Bank in London. “This has allowed the U.S. to get back on the growth-trajectory path much more quickly.”
Investors also applaud Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Board chairman, who has driven the total assets on the central bank’s balance sheet to more than $3.3 trillion in a bid to boost economic growth. By a 76 percent to 20 percent margin, those surveyed give Bernanke a favorable rating -- and unlike the president, there is little difference between the views of investors in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“The sustainability of the U.S. recovery is contingent on the continuing easy-money policy at the Fed coupled with a softer line on spending cuts out of Washington,” says Patrick Smith, 47, chief investment officer of Granite Springs Asset Management in Summit, New Jersey.
With inflation readings virtually flat -- the core consumer price index is up just 1.7 percent over the past year and the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge up just 1.1 percent -- the central bank is unlikely to end its monetary stimulus anytime soon.
“Until inflation moves meaningfully back toward the Fed’s long-run 2 percent target, it will be too soon to expect the Fed to taper -- let alone end -- its purchases,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists wrote in a May 16 report.
Investors aren’t preoccupied with political developments in Washington. Asked about the repeated confrontations between the president and Congress, 57 percent say the brawling isn’t affecting their investment decisions, while 38 percent say they would normally invest more in the U.S.
“The political fights in Washington were inevitable when President Obama won last November and the Republicans kept control in the House,” says Fitzpatrick. “Financial markets understood this from the beginning, which is why they have been little affected by the squabbling.”
Not everyone is convinced of the recovery’s staying power. Jonathan Sadowsky, 42, a portfolio manager with Vaca Creek Asset Management in Santa Monica, California, says “the lack of quality job and wage growth” along with insufficient investment may ultimately hobble the rebound.
Fedor Bizikov, a senior portfolio manager at GHP Group in Moscow, says he expects weakness in Europe and elsewhere eventually to spread to the U.S. and spark a new recession. “Unemployment is still high in terms of underemployment and declining labor-participation rate,” he says.
April’s 7.5 percent jobless rate was higher than the 25-year average of 6 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A reminder of the economy’s continued frailty came yesterday when the Labor Department said the number of Americans filing for initial jobless benefits unexpectedly rose to 360,000 from 328,000 the week before.
Since the recession’s end in June 2009, the economy has expanded at an annual rate of 2 percent. After slowing this quarter, it’s expected to accelerate to a 2.9 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
“Momentum is building, and the U.S. is again taking a lead in the economic cycle,” says Francis Infante, 62, treasurer of Caixa Geral de Depositos in London. “Asia is slowing down and the EU is still trying to find which way to go.”
The survey of 906 Bloomberg customers was conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based pollster. The results carry a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.