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The manager of George Soros’s fortune says a recession is ‘inevitable,’ but ‘markets might be wrong’ about how it looks

May 31, 2022, 4:39 PM UTC

Talk of a recession hitting the U.S. economy is becoming less about whether it will happen, and more like when.

Dawn Fitzpatrick, the custodian of billionaire George Soros’s wealth, doesn’t disagree with that—for the most part.

During a recent interview with investor David Rubenstein on his Bloomberg Wealth talk show, she said inflation and rising interest rates are making a recession “inevitable,” but the market is missing something.  

“The consumer right here is in extraordinarily good shape,” said Fitzpatrick, the CEO and CIO of Soros Fund Management, which is now operated as a family office after a legendary run as a hedge fund.

In the interview, taped at the end of April and released on Tuesday, Fitzpatrick laid out several important factors that she says could lead to a relatively moderate recession for the average U.S. consumer. And while Fitzpatrick said she thinks a recession is all but guaranteed, she disagrees with market predictions that a severe downturn will hit as early as next year.

“When you look at what markets are pricing here, they’re pricing [a recession] fairly soon, in the 2023 context depending on which asset classes you’re looking at. I actually think markets might be wrong,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that the strength of the U.S. consumer could be enough to stave off a severe recession. 

Unlike past recessions, many American consumers continue to benefit from a large pool of savings built up during the pandemic era’s fiscal stimulus programs. This means that many Americans have so far been able to keep up with their payments, despite inflation causing prices for goods and services in the U.S. to rise an average 8.3% this year.

Americans’ increased savings this year comes despite wage hikes failing to keep up with inflation, Fitzpatrick said. Many companies have been upping wages this year, but not enough for some employees to cope with rising prices, which is leading to some early evidence that U.S. consumers’ pandemic-era savings are starting to be chipped away.

But most Americans still have enough stored away in the bank to get through inflationary pressures, Fitzpatrick said, which combined with a relatively low unemployment rate, makes a severe recession less likely.

“People are paying down their credit cards at levels that were way, way faster than pre-pandemic,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Bank executives have noticed similar consumer strength in their customers’ accounts, many of which have swelled over the past year.

“In the balances of our customers, they have more money. In April, their balances grew over March, and in March they grew over all the way back to mid-last year,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said last week in an interview with CNBC Squawk Box.

Other economists, including Harvard University’s Jason Furman, have noted that the persevering strength of the U.S. consumer despite rising prices could be the difference maker between a severe recession and a moderate one. Analysts from investment bank Goldman Sachs have also forecast that the pandemic-era savings rate and a strong private sector performance could stave off a serious recession.

The U.S. economy can still rely on these forces to help avoid a severe recession, Fitzpatrick said, despite inflation and the likelihood of further interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.

“Rate increases will slow the economy and will impact inflation, but this economy has some shock absorbers built in,” she said.

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