Job growth is faltering, consumer confidence plunging. The fallout from the worst housing slump in a quarter-century grows.
Wherever one looks, the signs are unmistakable that the US economy is in trouble.
Because of all the bad news, more and more economists foresee the United States, one of the world’s largest economies, falling into a recession, according to the latest survey by the National Association for Business Economics (Nabe).
The group said in a report released yesterday that 45 per cent of the economists on its forecasting panel expect a recession this year.
In September, only one in four economists was pessimistic enough to put the chance of a recession at 35 per cent or higher.
The drumbeat of bad news since last autumn has caused many analysts to consider a recession more likely now, said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, chief economist at Ford Motor and Nabe’s current president.
The survey shows that 55 per cent still believe the country will be able to skate by without falling into an actual downturn, typically defined as two consecutive quarters of declines in the gross domestic output, the broadest measure of economic health.
All the analysts, however, expect growth to slow considerably this year.
The forecasters believe GDP will expand by 1.8 per cent this year, which would be the weakest growth in five years.
That compares with an estimate of 2.5 per cent growth for this year made in the previous survey, in November.
The new estimate is in line with a downgraded forecast from the Federal Reserve this past week.
The Nabe forecast reflects the expectation the economy will grow only sluggishly or actually contract from January through June.
Then it is seen starting to expand more strongly in the second half of the year.
The panel of 47 top forecasters thinks “any recession, if it occurs, will be short and shallow”, Hughes-Cromwick said.
The biggest change in the new survey involves the outlook for interest rates.
In November, economists expected the Fed would keep a key rate, the federal funds rate, at 4.5 per cent through all of 2008.
That rate, the target for overnight bank loans, is already at three per cent, after significant cuts by the Fed in January.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has indicated that further rate cuts will come if the economy fails to rebound. So the Nabe experts now predict the funds rate will end this year at 2.5 per cent.
Inflation is expected to moderate greatly this year as the weak economy cools price pressures.
Inflation shot up by 4.1 per cent in 2007, the biggest jump in 17 years.
The Consumer Price Index is forecast to rise by 2.5 per cent.
That is based in part on the Nabe panel’s view that demand will weaken for oil and the barrel price will drop to about $84 by December.
The current trend, however, is up; crude oil jumped to all-time highs above $100 per barrel over the last week.
The weaker growth will mean higher unemployment, according to the forecasters. They predict that the jobless rate for 2008 will average 5.2 per cent, compared with 4.6 per cent last year.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com and a Nabe panelist, said he believed the economy entered into a recession in December and it will pull out of the downturn in June, aided by the rebate checks that begin going out in May.
If problems worsen for the financial industry, hard hit by the housing downturn, then Zandi said Washington will rush through a second rescue measure because nervous politicians will not want to be seen as dawdling before the November elections.
“A recession in an election year represents a problem for incumbents,” Zandi said.
“That is why the first stimulus package got passed so quickly and that is why I expect more of a policy response before this is all over.”
A second panel member, David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s in New York, also believes the country is now in a recession.
While he believes the economic aid plan signed by President George W Bush should make the downturn a mild one, he worries the economy could falter again next year.
“There is a danger that this could turn into a double-dip recession,” he said.
The latest Nabe forecast, however, shows the economy continuing to grow in 2009. It predicts a modest GDP increase of 2.7 per cent for 2008, compared with the expected 1.8 per cent and the 2.2 per cent actual GDP growth in 2007. (AP)
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