Robert Spendlove, senior vice president and economic and public policy officer for Zions Bank, is discussing the current state of the economy at today’s Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference, and took note of the “Trump bump” in the stock market. “It’s not because the markets love Donald Trump. They don’t love him, they don’t hate him, they don’t care,” he said. “Markets respond to expectations.”
No one expected Trump to be elected, he said, so markets expected an economic agenda more like that of the previous administration. Instead, the nation is seeing an administration focused on economic growth. That’s spurred a spike in consumer confidence.
“Ignore the craziness in the Trump agenda, ignore the wall, ignore standing at NFL games, ignore calling Kim Jong Un short and fat, none of that matters,” Spendlove said. “What is the economic agenda of the new administration?” He summed it up in five points: Health care reform, tax reform, infrastructure spending, regulatory reform, and renegotiating international trade, “a very aggressive economic agenda.”
“I’m not saying that these are right or wrong, but they are significantly different than the previous administration,” he said. “The focus of the previous administration was on equity, equality, trying to bring people out of the shadows, trying to help the poor. The focus of the Trump Administration, the No. 1 thing, that’s all they care about – growing the economy. Every one of these items in their economic agenda, the goal is to grow the economy.”
Still, he sees some cautions in very low unemployment rates, which in the past often have preceded recessions. Labor force participation has dropped significantly since 2000, he noted. “More people are leaving the labor market as the economy is growing, so that’s a real problem.” Factors include demographic trends, such as retirement of the baby boom generation.
Though GDP growth remains strong, companies are having a harder and harder time filling open positions, Spendlove said. “The problem with that is it can actually constrain overall economic growth.”
With the labor shortage, he said, wage growth should be strong, but it’s not. “We’re just not seeing it,” he said. “We don’t know why we’re not seeing the kind of wage growth that you should see given our economic environment.” That and other factors could trigger changes, including at the Fed, that push the nation toward recession.
"I don't expect a recession in the short term, meaning in the next 6-12 months," he said, "but I think the trend is pretty clear. ... Possibly in the next 18-24 months we could start to see signs."