Over the past few weeks, investors used to setting their economic expectations based on a "stream of anecdotes" approach have seen their economic views evolve roughly as follows:
"After a brief 'scare' during the third quarter, economic reports have come in better than expectations for weeks - a sign that the economy is on a gradual but predictable growth path; Purchasing managers reports out of China and Europe have firmed, and the U.S. Purchasing Managers Indices have advanced, albeit in the low 50's, but confirming a favorable positive trend, and indicating that the U.S. is strong enough to pull the global economy back to a growth path, or at least sidestep any downturn; New unemployment claims have trended gradually lower, and combined with a surprisingly robust December payroll gain of 200,000 jobs, provides a convincing signal that job growth is on track to improve further."
I can understand this view in the sense that the data points are correct - economic data has come in above expectations for several weeks, the Chinese, European and U.S. PMI's have all ticked higher in the latest reports, new unemployment claims have declined, and December payrolls grew by 200,000.
Unfortunately, in all of these cases, the inference being drawn from these data points is not supported by the data set of economic evidence that is presently available, which is instead historically associated with a much more difficult outcome. Specifically, the data set continues to imply a nearly immediate global economic downturn. Lakshman Achuthan of the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) has noted if the U.S. gets through the second quarter of this year without falling into recession, "then, we're wrong." Frankly, I'll be surprised if the U.S. gets through the first quarter without a downturn.