JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon can’t shake the worry America is headed for a repeat of 1970s-style stagflation—and national debt may be to blame

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Wall Street stalwart Jamie Dimon is concerned history may be repeating itself with the U.S. economy returning to the embedded stagflation it battled fifty years ago.

Speaking at the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, JPMorgan CEO Dimon said now more so than ever the economy is resembling the 1970s, when both inflation and unemployment was high but economic growth was weak.

This week’s warning wasn’t the first time the boss of America’s biggest bank tested the theory. Last month he told CNBC’s Fast Money Halftime Report that while the economy is fairing reasonably well, “markets change their mind pretty quickly.” He added: “Remember, in 1972 you felt great, too. And before any crash, you felt great, and then things change.”

The Harvard alumni repeated his fears this week, saying: “I worry it looks more like the ’70s than we’ve seen before.”

Yet the CEO who was paid $36 million for his work in 2023 also hinted that some factors may be worse-off in 2024 than they were in 1970. He explained: “If you go bak to the 70s deficits were half of what they are today, the debt to GDP was 35%, not 100%, and so part of the reason I think we’ve had this strong growth is the fiscal spending.

“And why not spend another $2 trillion? If we did, what would happen? You’ll have more money, people would invest more money, people would hire more people, and you’d have more growth.”

Sound too good to be true? That’s because it might be. Dimon is one of a number of experts sounding the alarm on America’s debt-to-GDP ratio which is expected to hit 166% by 2054 according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Dimon has previously described the U.S. national debt problem as a “cliff,” explaining: “If you look at that 100% debt to GDP by [2035] I think it’s going to be 130%, and it’s a hockey stick. That hockey stick doesn’t start yet but when it starts, markets around the world…there will be a rebellion.”

This week Dimon reiterated the downsides if fiscal spending continued at huge scale. He told Marie-Josée Kravis, chair of the Museum of Modern Art, who was hosting the New York session: “It’s also quite inflationary and so you have trade-offs there. So far we’re in pretty good shape, and so far it looks like that soft landing-type of scenario, but put me on the cautious side of that one.”

Dimon also isn’t the only one to draw on the 1970s for comparison. In October last year Deutsche Bank released a note saying there are “a striking number of parallels” between that decade and our own time.

Veteran strategist Henry Allen said that there have been “a lot of promising signs that a return to the 1970s can be avoided,” but the ongoing conflict in the Middle East means “it is too early to sound the all-clear.”

‘Unbelievable’ economy

While Dimon—who is notorious for preparing JPMorgan for a range of economic outcomes—is nervous about a possible return to the 1970s, overall his outlook was positive.

When asked about he resilience of the market Dimon described it as “unbelievable,” adding: “Basically it’s booming. It’s been booming for a while.

“Unemployment hit an all-time low, it’s been under 4% now for the better part of two or three years, the American consumer—even if we go into a recession—is much wealthier than before… their home prices are up, their stock prices are up.”

Indeed, even without the massive spike caused by the pandemic, house prices in the U.S. have been steadily ticking up since 2020. Per the St Louis Fed, house prices stood at an average of $374,500 four years ago and have now ballooned to $492,300.

While it’s bad news for buyers trying to get a foot on the ladder, it’s helping six out of 10 households who do own their property.

Elsewhere the S&P500 is up approximately 7% for the year-to-date, and 22.5% over the past 12 months.

Dimon continued: “Even if we go into a recession the consumer’s in good shape.”

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