Most economists and market participants consider a recession as two consecutive quarters in which gross domestic product (GDP) growth is negative. There are of course variations to what may really be considered a recession, and if you just look at the financial headlines touting “recession” you might be tricked into thinking we are already entering one. The reality is that the United States is not in a recession and the global story is slower growth rather than true recession.
Now consider Germany. The economy that is effectively the linchpin of the European Union just reported that its GDP was lower by 0.1% in the second quarter of 2019. This is after growing 0.4% in the first quarter of 2019 and growing 0.2% in the fourth quarter of 2019. Having a negative GDP growth reading in quarter is not a true recession, but Germany entered 2019 at risk of entering a technical recession. There was also the same 0.1% drop seen in the third quarter of 2018 and some economists may now treat Germany as though it is in a technical recession.
The difference between a technical recession and a true recession is that a technical variation is when the math works out on GDP being in the red, but it may lack the waves of layoffs, cuts in business spending and outright consumer panic that would be seen in a traditional recession.
Germany’s weaker GDP reading was due to a decline in exports as the “peak auto” trends continue to weigh on Germany’s exports and sales of Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen and so on. What is of concern is that Germany’s manufacturing data for July looked gloomy, and that sets the stage of worry that third quarter of 2019 could be negative or flat as well. That said, the bar for the third quarter of 2019 is very low due to last year’s third quarter being negative.
The services sector readings so far have not nose-dived in Germany. Household spending and government spending have remained firm, as construction spending in the second quarter did not hold up to the first quarter’s strength.
So far Germany is maintaining that it does not need to introduce further stimulus to boost the economy. That said, German bund yields appear to all be at negative interest rates in the major maturities, and the U.S. markets are worried because the U.S. Treasury’s two-year note yield briefly inverted against the 10-year note yield.
It’s also important to consider that Germany’s unemployment rate currently is a mere 3.1%. It’s hard to talk about a recession being a total wipeout to the economy when everyone who can count to 16 and who doesn’t have two heads and three arms is gainfully employed.