Some see recession threat looming

A row of for-sale signs near a subdivision in Chino Hills, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: It's a little bit excruciating, don't you think? Waiting for the moment somebody's going to say --- boom --- that's it --- we're officially in a recession. There's actually a group that gets to decide when that officially happens. When the business cycle has turned south. It's called the National Bureau of Economic Research. The way the numbers get crunched, it's probably going to be six months or so after any recession would start that we'd hear about it.

As we wait for the Fed's decision on interest rates tomorrow, which might give us some sense of how Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues are feeling about a recession, economists got some discouraging data today. A leading real estate said prices for existing fell in August at the fastest rate since 1991. Meanwile, consumer confidence plunged last month. It's now at the lowest level since Hurricane Katrina. From New York, Marketplace's Amy Scott wraps all that up in a tidy package for us.


AMY SCOTT: To Nouriel Roubini, today's housing and consumer confidence numbers are just another sign of an impending recession. Roubini teaches economics at New York University. He predicts the U.S. economy will enter recession by early next year.

NOURIEL ROUBINI: First of all, the housing recession is getting worse, we have weakness in capital spending by the corporate sector, there is a credit crunch now, there are high and rising oil prices.

Need he go on? Trouble is, we usually don't find out we're in a recession until after it's started, or even finished. The official declarers of such things are members of the Business Cycle Dating Committee at the National Bureau of Economic Research. 88-year-old member, Victor Zarnowitz, has seen a lot of business cycles in his day. He says the committee hasn't even called a meeting to discuss the matter.

VICTOR ZARNOWITZ: The fact that we haven't called a meeting, doesn't mean that we won't.

Zarnowitz says the committee depends on an index of leading indicators. Things like business contracts and investments. And so far that index shows signs of a slowdown, but not an all-out recession. The committee defines recession as a persistent decline in economic activity that shows up in gross domestic product, income and employment, industrial production, and sales. Lakshman Achuthan directs the Economic Cycle Research Institute. He says we're not there yet.

LAKSHMAN ACHUTHAN: I think we're able to get away with that, not having a recession and having slower growth, primarily because we still have pretty low unemployment, which is allowing incomes to be fairly stable or even rise.

Achuthan doesn't foresee a recession at least through the middle of next year. But he says it will eventually happen. That's how business cycles work.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...