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Forget a soft landing. The market’s best hope is a ‘growth’ recession

By Nicole Goodkind, CNN Business

Investors are waking up to the harsh reality of just how much pain the economy may have to endure as the Federal Reserve continues its fight against stubbornly high inflation.

The Fed darkened its tone at last week’s policy meeting, warning of serious economic hardship ahead, and markets finally took the central bank at its word.

The S&P 500, already in a bear market, experienced another major downswing on Friday. The Dow fell briefly into bear territory and closed at its lowest level since 2020.

But while investors have waivered between whether the Fed will achieve a “hard” or “soft” landing, there’s a third, in-between possibility where everything feels kind of bad for a prolonged period of time. At this point, that economic purgatory may be investors’ best hope.

What’s happening: The Fed has had the same goal since it began hiking interest rates to fight inflation in March. It wants to achieve a soft landing — that Goldilocks ideal of cooling the economy enough to bring down prices but not enough to cause a recession. But the idea has grown increasingly untenable as inflation rates remain stubbornly high while economic data softens.

The new aim appears to be for a so-called growth recession: A prolonged period of meager growth and rising unemployment. The pain is sharper and lasts longer than that of a soft landing, but a “growth” recession doesn’t pull the entire economy into contraction the way a proper recession would. It looks like a recession, and feels like a recession, but it isn’t a recession — at least not officially.

The central bank’s updated economic projections last week showed that it expects to land in this scenario. Policymakers revised down their forecasts for economic output through the end of 2024 and raised forecasts for the unemployment rate from their last projections published in June.

Last week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell acknowledged that the dream a soft landing is over. “Reducing inflation is likely to require a sustained period of below-trend growth,” the chair said after announcing another three-quarters of a percentage point interest rate hike. There “will very likely be some softening of labor-market conditions,” he added.

A growth recession is still painful. In a best-case scenario, said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM US, between five and six million US jobs would have to be lost to bring inflation down to the Fed’s 2% goal.

The declaration of the recession might just be an academic exercise anyway, said Kevin Gordon, senior investment research manager at Charles Schwab, as people are already suffering economically.

Low-income Americans are experiencing negative real wage growth, investors are losing serious money across multiple asset classes, homebuyers are being shut out of a housing market that’s too expensive and renters are struggling to afford their leases.

The bottom line: Elevated housing prices, aching tech stocks, hot inflation and war in Europe are weighing on investors. The Federal Reserve’s new warning that it isn’t afraid to spark economic pain adds to the noise. Goldman Sachs and Bank of America both downgraded their annual S&P 500 targets last week.

“We can expect continued market turbulence for some time,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network.

But there is a silver lining. “The Fed is performing surgery right now on the economy,” said McMillan. “In the short run, it is painful. But in the long run? It is a healing process and one that sets the stage for a healthier economy and markets.”

Markets pan new plan to save the UK

Britain’s new government announced a sweeping plan to rescue the British economy from recession on Friday.

Announcing the biggest tax cuts in 50 years at the same time as boosting spending, Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng defended the government’s focus on growth in spite of persistent inflation woes as a “new approach for a new era.”

Markets instantly made it clear that they weren’t big fans of the approach, reports my colleague Julia Horowitz.

The British pound crashed below $1.10 by mid-afternoon, hitting a new 37-year low against the greenback, before diving to its lowest level ever against the US dollar early on Monday. UK government bonds have also sold off sharply, sending yields soaring.

Investors expressed confusion at the unconventional approach that would see the government borrow tens of billions more to stimulate spending, just as the Bank of England attempts to cool the economy to bring down inflation. The central bank on Thursday pushed its key rate to its highest level since 2008. It was the seventh interest rate hike since December.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss defended her government’s controversial announcement in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday. Truss told Tapper that by cutting taxes, her government was “incentivizing businesses to invest and we’re also helping ordinary people with their taxes.”

Marc Benioff is obsessed with Twitter

Marc Benioff and Elon Musk have something in common.

The Salesforce chairman and co-CEO, loves Twitter. If it were up to just him, he told CNN’s Poppy Harlow in an interview, he would “absolutely” buy the social media platform.

But unlike Musk, he’s not going to actually make an offer.

“I will never buy Twitter,” Benioff clarified to Harlow. “Because I want something doesn’t mean I’m going to have it…I would like to go have a sundae right now with three scoops of ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream and a cherry. But I’m not going to have it.”

His comments come in the middle of Twitter’s legal battle with Elon Musk, who offered to buy the company but then terminated the deal, reports my colleague Paul R. La Monica.

Still, he thinks that there could be a giant, unrealized upside to the company. Twitter, he said, “is the greatest, most unrealized, most un-monetized brand” in tech, adding that “it’s an amazing company, amazing brand, amazing platform and can do incredible things for the future.”

Salesforce considered a Twitter deal in 2016. But it was not to be, as Salesforce investors balked at the idea of a Twitter takeover.

Salesforce did eventually make another large deal, purchasing the workforce collaboration app Slack for $27.7 billion in late 2020.

Up next

Boston Fed President Susan Collins, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic, Dallas Fed President Lorie Logan and Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester all speak.

Later this week: US consumer confidence, US new home sales and the end of the third quarter.

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