How to say the 'R-word': bank executives grapple with recession talk

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Executives at the largest U.S. banks are grappling with how to best talk about the slowing economy and its impact on their businesses as they enter earnings season, people familiar with their thinking told Reuters.

Chief Executive Officer of Citigroup Michael Corbat speaks at a European Financial Forum event in Dublin, Ireland February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Of particular concern is how to deal with the word “recession,” which has become all but verboten as U.S. gross domestic product growth has decelerated.

Although many economists are predicting a downturn, a big bank executive doing so can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, a top banker dismissing recession worries to calm fears could be seen as uninformed or dishonest.

When asked to name the single biggest threat to the U.S. economy at a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Citigroup Inc Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat answered, “Our ability to talk ourselves into the next recession.”

The “R word,” as some are calling it, has been a topic of discussion during earnings planning, executives, investor relations staff and public relations officials said.

There are a few well-tested strategies to reassure investors without misleading them, said Pen Pendleton, founding


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