In spite of growing wages, extremely low unemployment and nearly 3 percent economic growth in 2018, the liberal media are becoming obsessed with recession. It didn’t matter that CFOs were confident the U.S. economy “will not experience a recession” in 2019. They were fixated by recession prospects in March anyway.
Every. Single. Day.
The media outlets varied, as did their intensity and certainly regarding recession worries. New York Magazine sounded an alarm on March 26, proclaiming “Recession Worries Move to DEFCON 3,” in an especially dramatic tone. Axios warned matter-of-factly on March 29, “Another recession indicator is flashing.” While Vox wrote that same week, “Economists now believe that another recession might arrive sooner rather than later — potentially before 2021.” Those are just a few of the many examples.
Each and every day of March 2019, some prominent U.S. news outlet was talking about “recession-spotting,” “recession worries,” a recession “lurking” or “mounting signs” of recession. Speculation and fear ran rampant in news and opinion coverage including ABC’s World News Tonight, CNBC programming, The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and more.
Not everyone or every story agreed. Contrarian views occasionally surfaced, such as CNBC anchor Jim Cramer who wrote at The Street, “The yield curve can be wrong. It might signal nothing but the fact that the Fed should never have done the December rate hike.”
There were also occasional reminders that economic forecasting often falls short. Bloomberg Businessweek published, “Why are Economists So Bad at Forecasting Recessions?” on March 28, after a month in which many economists had been cited and consulted about that very issue.
“A review of the past suggests that those who are paid to call turning points in economic growth have a dismal record,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek wrote. That skepticism didn’t stop Bloomberg’s massive news network from publishing recession forecasts. Earlier in the month, financial columnist A. Gary Shilling wrote a column for Bloomberg Markets: “A recession is coming, and maybe a bear market too.” In it, he gave “ a business downturn starting this year a two-thirds probability.”
If Nobel-prize winning economist Robert Shiller is right that just worrying about recession can become a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that halts the stock market, what negative impact could this daily drumbeat of recession fears from the media have?
Unfortunately, the tone of economic coverage often reflects the liberal media’s attitudes toward a president. Under President Barack Obama, even during difficult economic times, the liberal media looked for signs of “recovery.” When the administration dubbed summer 2010 “recovery summer,” they followed Obama’s lead and touted “milestone” projects paid for by the massive stimulus. Under President Donald Trump they ignore much of the good economic news, and look for bad news. In the Trump-era, the networks along skipped or minimized some strong jobs reports, ignored stock market record highs while emphasizing stock market tumbles and more.
MRC Business kept track all month to prove that every calendar day was marked by recession worries, forecasts and speculations.
March 1: ‘Recession Lurking Around the Corner’
The Hill published an op-ed from economist Lindsey Piegza declaring, “Most economists predict a recession by 2021 — count me among them.” In the column, Piegza said, “After all, with recession lurking around the corner, the [Fed] committee may need at least some further tools in the proverbial monetary policy toolkit to combat eventual weakness.”
March 2: ‘Many economists do expect a recession soon’
In “The Fed won’t be able to save us during the next recession,” Quartz relayed fears from the
left-wing Roosevelt Institute that the Federal Reserve “won’t have the same influence in the next recession” because interest rates are still quite low. Quartz also warned, “And many economists do expect a recession soon — as early as next year or 2020.”
March 3: ‘Where’s the Recession? You ask’
Forbes contributor Robert Barone expressed concerns about the deceleration of U.S GDP and global economic troubles in his column, “Where’s the Recession? You ask.” “It would behoove market watchers to stop ignoring the growing potential for a significant economic slowdown. And stop asking the snarky question: ‘Where’s the Recession?’”
March 4: ‘Concerns’ About 2019 Recession on MSNBC
MSNBC’s Morning Joe brought on former RNC chairman Michael Steele to discuss the current economy. Steele argued the economy was doing well and President Donald Trump should celebrate it, but nodded to recession fears saying: “There are some weaknesses around the edges, there are concerns about whether or not a recession will kick in by the second or third quarter of this year.”
March 5: Washington Post story on $100 bills mentions ‘Growing’ Recession ‘Fears’
Tucked into an A-section Post news story about $100 bills outnumbering $1 bills was this nugget: “Fears of a recession have been growing, in the United States and abroad. A recent survey of nearly 800 top business leaders around the world listed global recession as their biggest concern for 2019.” The Post noted that Harvard economist Larry Summers “doesn’t buy the idea that recession fears are driving demand for $100 bills.”
March 6: ‘Possible recession’ an issue Target, retailers face in 2019
Post national business reporter Rachel Siegel wrote that Target is winning customers back to “bricks-and-mortar” stores. She was also told by a retail analyst that Target “will still have to grapple with many of the economic questions looming over retailers in 2019, including tariffs and a possible recession.”
March 7: ‘Dow Carnage’ as ‘Recession Warnings Intensify’
Yahoo Finance republished a piece from CCN complaining about a selloff that took place before U.S. markets opened that day. It said, “The Dow’s disastrous week took an even darker turn on Friday after dismal economic data from China intensified fears of a looming recession – and caused U.S. stock market futures to point toward a fifth consecutive day of losses.”
March 8: Recession Talk Morning and Evening on CNN
Obama-era economic adviser Austan Goolsbee appeared on CNN Newsroom the morning of March 8, and said “For sure the economy is slowing.” Reacting to an “abysmal” February jobs report, Goolsbee said, “If we start getting multiple months like that, the unemployment rate is going to start shooting back up and people are definitely going to be talking about recession.”
That night on Erin Burnett Outfront, former Reagan administration budget director (and Trump critic) David Stockman insisted “we are heading for a recession. And we have had policies that are upside down in terms of where we should be going.”
March 9: Recession worries from The Hill, The Telegraph
The Hill published an op-ed claiming President Trump is “wrecking” the economy. In it, contributor Neil Baron wrote, “The GDP growth that delights Trump supporters is likely to be short-lived. Trump’s tax cuts failed to launch the promised investment boom that was supposed to lead to long-term growth. In fact, growth may already be slowing. Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, recently rose by 8,000. A growing number of economists and 73 percent of money managers predict a recession later this year or next.”
The Telegraph also reported that day that the U.S. faces “real risk” of recession. It said the country saw the “biggest one-month surge in recession risk in three decades as consumers start to buckle under higher credit costs, top economists have warned.”
March 10: 60 Minutes asks Fed: ‘Are we headed to a recession?’
CBS’s 60 Minutes anchor Scott Pelley proved recession remained on the minds of liberal journalists in his interview with Chairman Jerome Powell. Even after Powell told him “We see the economy as in a good place,” Pelley asked where Powell sees economic “weakness,” about people behind on car payments, and declining retail sales. That was all before he popped the big “overarching question” — “are we headed to a recession?”
March 11: ‘By the day, more and more people are predicting we’ll go into a recession’
U.S. News and World Report chided the Trump administration over the budget’s failure to cut the debt and faulted its “rosy economic projections.” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget president Maya MacGuineas told them the administration assumed 3 percent growth “forever.” She added, “By the day, more and more people are predicting we’ll go into a recession, so to premise all these savings on the presumption of ongoing economic growth is a risky proposition.”
March 12: CNN column warns business nerves could spur recession
Moody’s Analytics economic Mark Zandi is a media favorite. Perhaps because he’s a registered Democrat and supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 (after advising the McCain campaign in 2008). He wrote “Businesses are nervous and sentiment is at risk of breaking if anything goes wrong. And plenty could go wrong. A recession could materialize swiftly if businesses lose faith, and there is a good chance they will.”
March 13: CNBC reports ‘very real risk’ of 2020 recession
The UCLA Anderson Forecast on the economy showed “a very real risk” the U.S. economy would head into a recession in 2020, according to CNBC. UCLA forecasters warned of a global slowdown that is starting and called it “an eventuality we have been forecasting for over a year.” However, they also forecast “a modest rebound” in 2021.
March 14: Angel investor tells CNBC we’re ‘virtually’ in a recession already
On CNBC’s Closing Bell, angel investor Louis Woodhill claimed the economy was “virtually [in] recession” in the first quarter of 2019, due to low GDP forecasts. However, the government will not announce the preliminary reading of first quarter GDP until late April.
March 15: Goolsbee in the NY Times: ‘Are we one wrong turn away from recession?’
“You Never Know When a Recession Will Sneak Up On You,” proclaimed the headline of Austan Goolsbee’s New York Times economic view column published online March 15 (and in print March 16). After quoting President Donald Trump’s economic optimism, Goolsbee warned “Yet, some series people remain nervous.” He cited economic data, forecasts and history to argue “one wrong turn” could cause a recession by scaring consumers into pausing their spending.
March 16: MarketWatch says business leaders are ‘bracing for recession’
Although MarketWatch published an opinion column about corporate leaders’ recessionary fears on March 15, it was still actively promoting it on March 16. The original piece consulted Gartner research firm which warned many companies are “taking a recessionary stance and making preparations to capitalize on a downturn rather than be a casualty of one.” “More and more” U.S business leaders are talking about “a possible ‘downturn’ or ‘recession’.”
March 17: ‘Another recession is a matter of when not if’
The left-wing Guardian’s economic columnist Larry Elliot opined “As recession looms, could MMT be the unorthodox solution?” MMT, or modern monetary theory, is a an economic idea embraced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that disregards the size of deficits. Regarding a coming recession, Elliot wrote: “It would be a mistake, though, to assume that all is now well, because that is far from the case. The mood remains nervous and that’s not just because another recession is a matter of when not if.”
March 18: Bloomberg: ‘A Recession is Coming, and Maybe a Bear Market, Too’
Columnist A. Gary Shilling’s Bloomberg Markets headline was crystal clear regarding his bearish economic attitude. The column piled on the pessimism: “I first suggested the U.S. economy was headed toward a recession more than a year ago, and now others are forecasting the same. I give a business downturn starting this year a two-thirds probability.”
March 19: CNBC video: Greater than average chance for recession
CNBC released a video interview with Nobel Prize-winning, Yale economist Robert Shiller discussing the economy and recession. In it Shiller suggested there is a greater than average chance for a recession, but warned that it’s very “iffy” forecasting the economy a year or two in the future. He humbly acknowledged, “I’m not confident in my ability to predict these things any more than I’m confident of anybody else.”
March 20: MarketWatch: Recession will burst credit bubble of ‘biblical proportions’
Investment strategist John Maudlin’s MarketWatch column was less concerned with when a recession would arrive, and more concerned with the “credit bubble” that he warned would “explode” at that time. Citing the Federal Reserve’s decision not to increase interest rates, he complained it “may indeed buy the market an additional year or two. But postponing the inevitable downturn with artificially low rates will come at a cost. The cost is a massive credit bubble that is already of biblical proportions. Its implications chill me to the bone.”
March 21: Recession by Mid 2020, Investment Strategist Tells CNBC
“Our view is that the U.S. will be in recession, or close to recession by the middle of 2020,” Paul Kitney of Daiwa Capital Markets told CNBC on March 21.
March 22: Inverted Yield Curve Spurs Many Recession Stories
Many news outlets talked about recession on this day (and several days that followed) due to a “bellwether U.S. bond indicator” known as the inverted yield curve. “U.S. Markets Flash Warning Last Seen Before Great Recession,” The Daily Beast headline declared. “Yet another recession warning just flashed red” Business Insider’s headline began.Even ABC World News Tonight mentioned the inverted yield curve that night. A MarketWatch column that day also interpreted the Fed’s “total capitulation” as a guarantee that “recession is coming.” “Their actions speak loud and clear,” it continued.
March 23: ‘Fair chance of 2019-2020 recession’
The yield curve inversion was still spurring recession prognostication March 23, as evidenced by Forbes investing contributor Simon Moore. He said the inversion “the yield curve has a good track record” and puts the “chance of a recession at 30%.” But unlike some of the more fear-mongering coverage, Moore at least admitted there are “risks” of forecasting the recession based on just the yield curve data and that “a 25-30% chance of recession is not that high.”
March 24: ‘Growing fears about a U.S. recession’ bring down stocks
Reuters reported stock futures were falling again, just days after the three major stock indexes declined and “risk assets fell out of favour on growing fears about a U.S. recession.” Later, it pointed out that “Historically, an inverted yield curve — where long-term rates fall below short-term — has signalled an upcoming recession.”
March 25: Vox tackles ‘panic’ over yield curve, CNBC cites ‘mounting fears’
At least two media outlets addressed the yield curve again March 25. Vox published an “explainer,” about why that metric “sent the financial press into a tizzy.”
The left-wing website acknowledged “nobody really knows” if it means a recession “really” is on the way, “But it’s certainly not good news. And while you wait to see if economic disaster strikes, you might as well learn what the hell it is the analysts on television are talking about.”
The same day Squawk on the Street, co-anchor Sara Eisen asked editor-at-large John Harwood if the end of the Mueller investigation changes anything between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping regarding a trade deal.
“I don’t think so,” he said. But Harwood added that both presidents are under “economic pressures” to get an agreement. “The Chinese economy is weakening, we’ve seen that. The U.S. economy is slowing down. We had the yield curve invert on Friday. There are mounting fears of potential recession, say, by 2020.”
March 26: New York Magazine Goes to ‘DEFCON 3’
Using military aviation threat system’s language for an economic story is sure to incite fear, even when it doesn’t use the highest “threat” level. But that’s the way New York Magazine headlined its story about the yield curve concerns.
“Recession Worries Move to DEFCON 3,” blared Josh Barros’ headline. Late in the story were admissions that not everyone thinks that the yield curve is signalling a recession, it could just be predicting “weaker” growth. Far more people will read the scary headline than will make it to the calmer tones in the latter portion of the article, after the advertisement.
March 27: Scary FORECLOSURE image dominates Vox recession piece
Pictures speak louder than words. And the full banner image of a red FORECLOSURE sign stretched across the top of a Vox piece about recession concerns certainly spoke loudest.
Even louder than the second paragraph that read, “Economists now believe that another recession might arrive sooner rather than later — potentially before 2021 — and a growing group of analysts and experts have started to talk more about the possibility of a recession on the horizon.”
March 28: The Street promotes gold due to ‘imminent’ recession
The Street’s Real Money section included a call to start investing in gold, since a “recession is coming.” Author Jim Collins declared, “I firmly believe the yield curve is a sign of an impending recession. Why? Because the last nine recessions have been preceded by an inverted three-month/10-year U.S. Treasury yield curve.” Although he told people not to panic, he urged changes to asset allocations including adding “hard assets” like gold.
March 29: ‘Another recession indicator’ gets Axios attention
Not just focused on the inverted yield curve anymore, Axios called attention to “another recession indicator” it warned was “flashing.” The new indicator was “the value of corporate equities that households and non-profits own.” The rate had fallen at the end of 2018.
The same day, CNBC reported that “key data could end or defend recession fears” this week. They were looking toward the March jobs report, manufacturing data and stocks which had the “best quarter in a decade.”
March 30: Bloomberg Welcomes Economic ‘Health Check as Recession Fears Persist’
As March was winding to a close, recession fears had not abated. Bloomberg’s headline on the 30th said, “US Gets Health Check as Recession Fears Persist.”
Could that persistence have had anything to do with the media’s incessant recession coverage?
“Investors will get a welcome health-check on the U.S. economy this week as markets fret it’s looking increasingly recession-prone,” Bloomberg reported. “The next seven days are packed full of key data with reports on retail sales and manufacturing setting the tone on Monday right through to the March jobs report on Friday. The median of forecasts in the Bloomberg survey is for payrolls to rise 175,000 after a disappointing reading of 20,000 for February.”
March 31: ‘Laser focus’ on upcoming data after ‘recessionary warning signals’
Reuters reported that Wall Street would be scrutinizing upcoming economic data “after a dismal February jobs report and recessionary warning signals from U.S. Treasury yields” and hoping to find “reassurance.”
Jack Ablin of Cresset Capital Management in Chicago told Reuters, “The yield curve inversion is the manifestation of investors’ fears that the U.S. is getting caught up in a global slowdown.”
But Reuters did admit “many investors say they do not expect a U.S. recession any time soon. But they are seeking confirmation for optimism in next week’s data.”