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If we’ve learned anything the past couple of years, it’s that the old economic playbooks are no help for what is happening now. Nobody has any experience with the aftermath of an economy that stops on a dime, jettisons some 17 million from the workforce over two weeks and contracts 31% only to rebound just as quickly on the back of free-money government programmes that injected trillions of dollars directly into the pockets of consumers to go along with ultra-easy monetary policy. (File pic shows the Fed building in Washington)

WHEN it comes to the economy, so-called soft landings are as rare as sightings of Halley’s comet.

That’s because the Federal Reserve (Fed) doesn’t have a great track record in raising interest rates to tame inflation without causing a deep and painful recession, otherwise known as a hard landing. But it’s starting to look like the central bank may just pull off the impossible.

It’s a very perplexing time in the field of economics. Activity has contracted, as measured by the official gross domestic product (GDP) calculations put out by the Commerce Department, but it doesn’t feel like a recession.

The economy has added 2.74 million jobs this year through June.

This earnings season has shown that many consumer-facing companies such as Starbucks Corp and Uber Technologies Inc are enjoying pricing power, and travel companies are experiencing booming demand, with Marriott International Inc saying hotel occupancy has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Travel surge

If you have taken a flight within the United States recently, you have probably noticed that the plane is completely full and the airports are mobbed.

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Overall, members of the benchmark S&P 500 Index are on track to post record profits for the second quarter.

If this is a recession, it’s a strange one. But recessions come in all shapes and sizes.

The one in 1990 and 1991 was primarily confined to the commercial real estate and the banking sectors, though it took until 1995 for the unemployment rate to fall back to where it was before the recession.

In GDP terms, the dot-com bust in 2001 could hardly be considered a recession, but it felt extremely painful due to the massive drop in the stock market.

Then there was the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, which was referred to as the Great Recession because of its depth and duration, with unemployment rising to 10%, the housing market collapsing and personal bankruptcies surging.

The Covid-19 recession of 2020 saw the economy contract by the most since the Great Depression and the unemployment rate shoot up to near 15%, but then quickly rebound on the back of unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus.

Perhaps the reason why there is so much talk these days about whether the economy is in a recession is because of recency bias, with people remembering how damaging the last two were and thinking the next one will be of the same magnitude.

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