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Let's be rational: Tougher times ahead

Traders shout and jockey for attention in the energy options pit at the New York Mercantile Exchange.

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: Wall Street investors were happy about some relief in oil prices, and word of bailout help for Citigroup. But how deeply satisfied can they be, when there's word that all the bad news lately does seem to be stirring up some perfectly rational consumer and investor gloom?

Marketplace's Steve Tripoli is here with the list of what's got everyone feeling so grumpy, and reasons why all that fretting may, or may not signal tougher times ahead.


STEVE TRIPOLI: Yikes, what a list. Out today, the worst consumer confidence numbers in two years, and the worst year-on-year drop in home prices in some time. Plus, a report predicting the foreclosure crisis is far from over. I asked the Conference Board's Lynn Franco about those low consumer confidence numbers from her group. Whether numbers like these tend to predict recessions historically.

LYNN FRANCO: Yes they do, and current readings could be shock-induced or they could be signaling a recession.

Franco and Economist Diane Swonk, at Mesirow Financial, both say the housing crunch, plus rising oil prices are the biggest shocks. But Swonk says that's not all.

DIANE SWONK: The sense is that income inequalities have worsened, and that's a reality frankly. It really is evident when you see luxury retailers out there reporting "accelerating sales into the holiday season," even as consumers are complaining that they're feeling pinched at the pump.

Pinched consumers, volatile markets, housing and credit shocks. Economists are putting them all together and earning their "dismal scientist" nickname. Diane Swonk.

SWONK: Well I think, clearly the risks of recession have gone up.

But like other economists she still doesn't think that means a recession will happen. How come? Because consumers say they're pinched, but then tell the Conference Board they'll be spending more this Christmas, and OPEC is promising moves that could tame oil prices. But not everyone's convinced we'll have dodged this bullet. Merrill Lynch analysts predicted a recession in a research note published yesterday. Which means decent holiday spending could prove to be our final fling.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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