Global slowdown, recession risks push JP Morgan Asset Management to adopt 'cautious' strategy

One of Wall Street's largest investing firms warns that a global growth slowdown could sink the U.S. into recession this year.

According to J.P. Morgan Asset Management's Ben Mandel, it's a risk pushing the firm to turn cautious on stock markets here and abroad.

"What's happening right now is a little bit of difficulty discerning between what is a late [economic] cycle slowdown and what is the end of the cycle," the firm's global strategist said Tuesday on CNBC's "Futures Now." "The U.S. sort of coming back to Earth after an exceptional period of growth and then no one really picking up the slack."

Weak economic figures in China and lower growth estimates from the International Monetary Fund stirred up global slowdown fears and sent stocks lower Tuesday. The Dow and S&P 500 snapped four-day winning streaks and saw their worst day since Jan. 3.

The S&P closed back in correction territory. The index is now more than 10 percent off its all-time high hit on Sept. 21. Almost half of S&P companies do business overseas.

"We went from a story of synchronized global growth in 2017 to one in which there was U.S. growth leadership in 2018," Mandel said. "At the beginning part of 2019, it's looking to become more synchronized again, but not in a good way."

The slowdown jitters are being exacerbated by a lingering U.S.-China trade war and uncertainty stemming from Brexit.

Make or break moment?

So, is it a make or break moment for the U.S. economy and financial markets?

"There's an element of that in the first half of this year," Mandel said. "Part of it is just going back to the context of global growth decelerating, and U.S. growth, in particular, having a very abrupt deceleration."

He expects the risks associated with the U.S.-China trade war and Brexit will eventually subside favorably. However, Mandel believes it's prudent for investors to be careful.

"If we make it through the next three to six months, I think there's a fair degree of upside risk in addition to that downside risk that we're seeing today. So, my sense is to be cautious now," he said. "Once this signal extraction problem between recession and slowdown is resolved, you might actually see things turn up by the middle of this year."

For now, his strategy is reflecting the current market risks.

"We're now underweight slightly equities versus bonds in our portfolios," Mandel said. "We brought cash up from neutral to a slight overweight in our portfolios. You know you have a small return that's positive there, and again, a hedge for a lot of those late-cycle shocks — including inflation and policy."

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