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Your Take: Are We In A Recession?

Posted By Jim On 08/08/2008 @ 6:18 am In Your Take | 22 Comments

It used to be that the measure of a recession was two consecutive quarters of negative GDP, something that we haven’t done yet. However, with all the bad financial news (enormous national deficit next year, 1 in 171 homes being foreclosed, record unemployment, stock market woes, financial companies taking massive writedowns, domestic car manufacturers tanking, etc), it’s sure feels like a recession despite the official measures telling us otherwise.

(As an aside, the two consecutive quarters rule is really a trailing indicator. You’re in a recession when the GDP is contracting but you don’t label it a recession until after two quarters, so you live it before you label it. Makes the term kind of useless, doesn’t it?)

I’m curious to know whether you think we’re in a recession. I posed the question to Chris Farrell [3], Marketplace Money’s personal finance guru, and he said:

I am in the camp that believes we are in a recession. Yes, government statisticians recently reported that the economy is expanding at a 1.9% average annual rate. And it takes the National Bureau of Economic Research–the official arbiter of when and if the U.S. economy is in recession–between 6 month to 18 months after a downturn begins to label it as a recession.

Still, the job market is weak, and getting worse. Layoffs are hitting more industries. Home prices keep spiraling lower, and we haven’t seen bottom yet. The credit turmoil in the financial system is spreading, most recently reaching the credit card market. Consumers are strapped for cash, with higher energy and food prices sapping budgets. Exports are one of the few bright spots in the economy.

What’s more, official history is being revised downward. It’s intriguing to note that when the government revises previously published statistics the figures are usually worse than initially reported. For example, the fourth quarter of last year was recently revised down to negative growth: -0.2% from the previous 0.6%. Mike Mandel, chief economist at Business Week, has been making a strong case over at his blog that the consumer spending figures are too high.

It feels like a recession. It looks like a recession. And eventually I think it will be labeled a recession.

(Photo: bobjagendorf [4])


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[3] posed the question to Chris Farrell: http://www.publicradio.org/columns/marketplace/gettingpersonal/2008/08/recession_or_not.html

[4] bobjagendorf: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobjagendorf/2396411807/sizes/l/

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