Economic indicators give conflicting signals

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Thursday, June 16, 2022. Markets worldwide were back to tumbling on Thursday as worries about a fragile economy roar back to the fore. The S&P 500 was 3.9% lower in afternoon trading, more than reversing its blip of a 1.5% rally from a day before. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Thursday, June 16, 2022. Markets worldwide were back to tumbling on Thursday as worries about a fragile economy roar back to the fore. The S&P 500 was 3.9% lower in afternoon trading, more than reversing its blip of a 1.5% rally from a day before. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

It’s been a roller-coaster week for economic news, but the conflicting signals could leave one wondering whether the economy is rising or plunging.

Good news: Jobs in Georgia are up, jobseekers are rare and the unemployment rate is at an all-time low.

Trouble: the stock market is diving, cryptocurrencies have collapsed and the Federal Reserve has gotten aggressive in its fight against inflation with sharply higher interest rates.

The Fed lifted its benchmark rate by three-quarters of a percentage point in an escalation of its campaign. That is one key reason that mortgage rates are spiking, a change that could force many wannabe homebuyers to retreat from the market, while home prices flatten or even dip.

Yet most households are generally faring well. Most people who want jobs have a paycheck. Many people still have savings amassed during the pandemic and consumer demand is still strong.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening:

Stock market:

-2.2%

That’s how much the Dow Jones Industrial Average has declined this week. That index is down 7.6% in the past month and has fallen 15% since the start of the year. While having no immediate economic impact, rising stock prices let many companies raise money. They also make Americans feel wealthier.

Interest rates:

0.75%

That’s how much the U.S. central bank hiked interest rates this week. After keeping the effective benchmark rate near zero for several years, the increases since early March are being felt elsewhere in the economy.

Average 30-year fixed mortgage:

5.78%

While lower than during many periods in the past, the mortgage rates on average have virtually doubled since late last year. They are the highest they’ve been since 2008, when the economy was falling into a deep recession.

Gas prices:

$4.52

That’s the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in metro Atlanta, up from $4.12 a month ago. A year ago, the average price was $2.90 a gallon. While only one factor in inflation, gas prices are the most publicly visible consumer expense with the widest impact.

Jobs:

3.0%

That’s the unemployment rate in Georgia. Hiring has continued to be robust and joblessness is at historically low levels despite the worrying economic signs.

Recession Risk:

“While Georgia’s latest employment data show a strong overall increase, there is little question that storm clouds are gathering around the broader U.S. economy. We now see a recession as being more likely than not over the next year to 18 months. The ongoing carnage in the capital markets has real world implications for Peachtree Street, as it is now more costly and difficult for firms to raise capital. The pullback is particularly notable in the tech sector, which has been a bright spot in Georgia’s economy the past few years. We expect hiring to slow over the next few months.”

-- Wells Fargo economists, in an online newsletter Thursday

“We see no real probability of recession in 2022. The second quarter is looking good. Fed policy typically takes 12 to 15 months, but the lag time may be shorter this time because of the pace of the rate hikes. Our forecast is that there’s a 15% probability of recession this year and a 40% probability in 2023 and 2024.”

-- Kurt Rankin, senior economist, PNC Financial Services Group Friday

“For now, we don’t expect an outright recession, but with our base case incorporating a slower rate of GDP growth, the risk of a recession has become elevated.”

-- Preston Caldwell, head of U.S. economics for Morningstar, in a note to investors on Thursday