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Jamie Dimon softens tone on a recession: ‘They’re storm clouds. They may dissipate’

May 24, 2022, 9:09 PM UTC

Wall Street has struck an increasingly dour tone over the past few weeks, and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is no exception, saying earlier this month that the chances of the U.S. economy avoiding a recession stood at only 33%.

But even if a recession does hit, Dimon doesn’t seem to think it will be a particularly bad one.

“If we go into a recession, it may be different from prior recessions,” Dimon said Monday at JPMorgan’s investor day presentation.

Dimon compared the chances of a forthcoming recession to “big storm clouds,” and while rising inflation and interest rates are propelling the U.S. economy towards the storm at full speed, the collision may not be too bad.

“I’m calling them storm clouds because they are storm clouds. They may dissipate,” Dimon said, adding that the clouds do not look like they could cause a “hurricane” or a “tsunami” akin to what preceded the last major recession in 2008.

It is a softer view on inflation than Dimon has expressed in the past, having warned in April of “powerful forces” converging to create huge uncertainty and threatening the U.S. into a potentially severe recession. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product; the U.S. GDP fell 1.4% in the first quarter. 

Dimon outlined several factors he says favor a moderate recession, including high spending by consumers and a strong economy supported by months of unprecedentedly large monetary and fiscal government stimulus packages. He called the conversion of these factors something “you’ve never seen before,” and they could be the difference between a mild recession and a severe one.

U.S. consumer spending is relatively strong, after U.S. consumers amassed huge savings during the pandemic thanks to government stimulus checks and reduced spending. 

The strength of the American buyer and of the private sector has helped soften fears of a severe recession. Earlier in May, investment bank Goldman Sachs told investors that, while the risk of a recession was rising, the private sector’s strength could be enough to carry the economy through. Also in May, Harvard University economist and former presidential economic adviser under Barack Obama Jason Furman said that high consumer spending was one of two factors that favored a soft landing for the economy.

“I’m relatively unworried about a recession over the next year because consumer spending has continued to be very strong, and consumers have about $2.3 trillion of excess savings that they accumulated during the pandemic that could still spend out over the next couple of years,” Furman said.

While economists are becoming increasingly convinced that a recession is coming, some, like Furman, say that a severe one is far from certain, and a moderate recession is more likely. In its last two monthly economic forecasts, federally-backed mortgage guarantor Fannie Mae predicted that a moderate recession will likely hit within the next two years, citing strong consumer spending and a hot housing market.

Last week, Goldman Sachs CEO said that “extremely punitive” inflation means there is a 30% chance a recession will hit within the next 24 months, but stopped short of warning that an economic collapse was on the cards, saying that the economic contraction was still “orderly.”

When speaking on Monday, Dimon assured investors that JPMorgan was prepared for any unpredictable outcome. But while he appears to share the view that a recession is likely, the chances of a severe economic downturn are still relatively low. 

In Dimon’s earlier assessment that the U.S. had only a 33% chance of avoiding a recession, he split the remaining 66% into two eventualities: a 33% chance of a severe recession, and a 33% chance of a mild one. 

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