By Ramishah Maruf, CNN
It’s the question everyone is asking: Are we about to enter a recession?
A tepid stock market, soaring inflation, and rising interest rates have left Americans less than optimistic about the state of the economy. Consumer sentiment has plunged to a record low, according to a University of Michigan survey released last week, fueled by frustration over high prices.
Earlier in June, the consumer price index jumped to its highest level in 40 years. The government’s primary inflation gauge saw prices surging 8.6% for the past 12 months. And now the Fed is raising interest rates at an aggressive pace as it looks to slow down economic activity.
To be clear: we are not in a recession, at least not yet. But signs of an economic downturn are cropping up all over, in sectors from commodities to housing . Here’s what CNN Business reported last week:
Prices for the metal hit 16-month lows on Thursday after dropping more than 11% in two weeks — that’s bad news for investors who view copper prices as a bellwether for the global economy.
Copper is widely used in construction materials, and it faces increased demand in an expanding economy. That demand disappears when the economy contracts.
Prices shot up earlier this year when Russia, which accounts for 4% of global copper output, invaded Ukraine. Traders who were concerned about short supply began hoarding the metal. And now, copper prices are falling.
“Copper prices are just starting to account for the fact that global growth is slowing,” Daniel Ghali, director of commodity strategy at TD Securities, told CNN Business’ Julia Horowitz.
Purchasing Managers’ Index
The index released by S&P Global on Thursday found that US private sector output slowed “sharply” in June. Chris Williamson, chief business economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence, said producers of non-essential goods are seeing a drop in orders as consumers struggle with rising prices.
The Fed’s aggressive interest rate hikes are dampening the mood further.
“Business confidence is now at a level which would typically herald an economic downturn, adding to the risk of recession,” Williamson told CNN Business’ Julia Horowitz.
A closely followed University of Michigan survey released Friday found that US consumer sentiment hit a new record low in June -— the lowest recorded level since the university started collecting the data 70 years ago.
The June index saw a 14.4% drop since May as consumers became increasingly alarmed about inflation. About 79% of those consumers said they expected bad times for business conditions in the upcoming year, the highest level for that metric since 2009.
The percentage of consumers who blamed inflation for eroding their living standards, 47% according to the June index, is only one percentage point lower than the all-time high reached during the Great Recession.
“As higher prices become harder to avoid, consumers may feel they have no choice but to adjust their spending patterns, whether through substitution of goods or foregoing purchases altogether,” Joanna Hsu, Surveys of Consumers director, said. “The speed and intensity at which these adjustments occur will be critical for the trajectory of the economy.”
The good news: Americans could find some relief is on the way for gas prices.
The bad news: It’s because traders are betting on a recession, CNN Business’ Allison Morrow said.
As US drivers felt the pain at the pump, they began pulling back on gas this spring, reducing demand and bringing down the price.
Though pullback of demand could bring temporary relief, it also points toward broader economic concerns.
“This morning’s market action has recession worries written all over it,” wrote Peter Boockvar, the chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, earlier this week. He put the odds of a recession this year at 99% because “nothing is 100%.”
Better news: A cool-down of the housing market may not hurt the economy and stock market.
Prices have spiked, leaving homeownership out of reach for many Americans, and mortgage rates have spiked after the Fed’s rate hikes and a surge in bond yields.
But Lennar, a homebuilder whose shares are down nearly 45% this year, reported better than expected earnings on Wednesday and a 4% increase in new home orders.
Lennar’s CEO, however, remained cautious, saying in the company’s second quarter earnings release that it’s a “complicated moment in the market.”
Despite the slowdown in the housing market, experts are hopeful that it won’t spread to the economy the way the housing bubble burst in 2008 did.
“Banks are in much better shape now, and they are not giving out loans to people with no credit or bad credit,” Michael Sheldon, chief investment officer with RDM Financial Group at Hightower, told CNN Business’ Paul R. La Monica. “If there is a recession, the impact on housing could be mild. There are not as many imbalances as we had before.”
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CNN Business’ Julia Horowitz, Alicia Wallace, Allison Morrow and Paul R. La Monica contributed to this report.