Personal finance

Soft landing vs. mild recession: What advisors are telling their clients about the economy

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After more than a year of gloomy forecasts for the U.S. economy, some experts have backed off recession predictions and embraced the soft landing targeted by the Federal Reserve.

These shifts have sparked conversations among financial advisors and their clients, who may have varying levels of optimism about the country’s economic outlook.

Recession predictions largely stemmed from high inflation and the Fed’s plans to fight it, including a series of interest rate hikes, aimed at bringing inflation down to its 2% target

“The 2022 buzzword was recession,” said Douglas Boneparth, a certified financial planner based in New York. “And here we are in 2023 with a myriad of economic data suggesting otherwise.”

Boneparth, who is president of Bone Fide Wealth and a member of CNBC’s Financial Advisor Council, said data like the strong labor market and falling inflation isn’t pointing to the economic downturn experts predicted.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported annual inflation fell to 3% in June, and the July unemployment rate was 3.5%, just above the lowest level since 1969, according to the U.S. Labor Department.  

Of course, with recessions notoriously difficult to predict, even for economists, advisors have warned clients about making fear-based investing decisions.

Recession ‘highly unlikely’ in the next 12 months

One definition of a U.S. recession is two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product, or GDP, which happened during the first two quarters of 2022. Subsequent quarters have been positive.

But that 2022 slump hasn’t been called a recession by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the organization that marks the start and end of economic downturns, explained Atlanta-based CFP Ted Jenkin, founder of oXYGen Financial.

Plus, “wages are still growing and retail sales are still growing,” said Jenkin, who is also a member of CNBC’s FA Council. “The odds of a recession in the next 12 months are highly unlikely.”

The odds of a recession in the next 12 months are highly unlikely.
Ted Jenkin
Founder of oXYGen Financial

Still, some clients worry about the economic effects of the student loan payment pause ending in September, as well as ballooning auto loans and record-high credit card debt, he said.

‘We constantly educate our clients’

Whether the economy is heading for a mild recession or soft landing, experts emphasize the need for ongoing client education.

“Sometimes we have recessions when you least expect it, and then you have booming economies when you least expect it,” said Carolyn McClanahan, a CFP and founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida. She is also a member of CNBC’s FA Council.

“We constantly educate our clients and make them prepared for whatever the world’s going to throw their way,” she added.

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