Sunny days for the economy can't last forever

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein: 'I haven't felt this good since 2006'
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein: 'I haven't felt this good since 2006'

1. It's getting late: The recovery from the Great Recession is already one of the longest economic expansions in American history.

And recently the economic cycle has gone from humming along to booming. Unemployment is down to a 17-year low, small business sentiment is roaring, and economic growth hit the 3% mark twice last year.

But economic expansions don't last forever. A recession comes along eventually and ruins the party.

Wall Street is already pondering the demise of this recovery, which in May would become the second-longest in history.

Most economists and investors believe the U.S. economy is either in or approaching "late cycle," meaning the final chapter of the business cycle. At that stage, employers struggle to find workers, pushing wages and inflation higher.

The good news is that 91% of investors polled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch this month believe a recession is "unlikely" at this point. But the same poll showed 70% of investors think the global economy is in "late cycle." That's the highest since January 2008 and up from around 20% in 2015.

Late cycle doesn't mean game over. Just like in baseball, the later innings of the economic cycle can still be successful, for Main Street and Wall Street. Stocks tend to boom and wages rise more meaningfully.

Related: Where the current economic expansion ranks

This thinking helps explain why investors have recently become fixated on wage and inflation readings. The fear is that inflation will get too hot, forcing the Federal Reserve to step in with dramatic interest rate hikes that rock the economy and financial markets.

Sixty-three percent of investors polled by Bank of America believe the biggest risks right now are an inflation-induced bond crash or a policy mistake by central banks.

S&P Global Ratings said in a recent report that the current expansion has a "good chance" to stay alive until the summer of 2019 and become the longest ever.

"Barring a shock, this expansion has staying power," the firm wrote.

Some think the economy may struggle to keep going after that, though. Guggenheim Partners predicted last month that the next recession "will occur by the end of 2019 or 2020."

"Seeing an overheating labor market and rising inflation, the Fed will raise rates into restrictive territory, leading to an eventual recession," Guggenheim wrote.

It's also possible that the spending spree by the Trump administration on $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and a potential $200 billion infrastructure program will overheat the economy more quickly. That's what Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein told CNN he's concerned about.

"What could possibly go wrong?" Blankfein joked. "I haven't felt this good since 2006."

2. Inside Janet Yellen's final meeting: On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release minutes from its January meeting. It was the last before former Fed Chair Janet Yellen turned the seat over to Jerome Powell.

As expected, the Fed left interest rates unchanged. The market has penciled in three rate hikes for this year.

But the Fed may feel a need to move faster. Wage growth is expanding more quickly than it has in years, and inflation rose faster than expected in January. The central bank said immediately after the meeting that it would "carefully monitor" inflation.

The wage hikes — and the prospect of faster interest rate hikes — sent investors into frenzy of selling earlier this month, including the worst point decline ever for the Dow.

The Fed minutes will offer insight into whether policy makers were already discussing data concerning inflation and future hikes, and offer some insight into why they signaled that a rate increase is coming in March.

Related: As Yellen leaves, Fed will face new challenges

3. Walmart and Home Depot's bottom lines: Walmart (WMT) plans to report earnings on Tuesday. The nation's largest private-sector employer beat Wall Street forecasts last time and posted impressive online growth.

Since then, Walmart has announced that it is both raising pay and shutting 63 Sam's Clubs locations, so executives will have a lot to talk about.

Home Depot (HD) is also scheduled to report on Tuesday. While other retailers are struggling, the home improvement store is hiring. The company said last week that it is planning to add 80,000 seasonal or permanent part-time workers.

Related: The one sector of retail that's hiring - a lot

4. UK unemployment rate: Britain is set to release another round of unemployment numbers on Wednesday.

From September to November of last year, Britain's unemployment rate was 4.3%, the lowest in decades. The country's jobless rate has been hovering around that figure for months. But until questions about Brexit are answered, workers will be on edge.

Related: Brexit could still be a train wreck

5. More market superlatives: The stock market had one of its best weeks in years. Investors hope the momentum will continue.

Coming off the scary swings of early February, the Dow has gained ground six sessions in a row. The S&P gained 4.3% last week, its best in five years. The Nasdaq had its best week since 2011.

Related: 10 shocking facts about the stock market this week

6. Coming this week:

Monday — Markets closed for Presidents Day

Tuesday — Home Depot and Walmart earnings

Wednesday — FOMC minutes released

Thursday — Hewlett-Packard (HPE) and Chesapeake Energy (CHK) earnings

Friday — Potbelly (PBPB) earnings