Top economists see signs of recession

Updated: 2008-02-25 17:10

WASHINGTON -- Job growth is faltering, consumer confidence plunging. The fallout from the worst housing slump in a quarter-century grows. Wherever you look, the signs are unmistakable that the economy is in trouble.

Because of all the bad news, more and more economists foresee the country falling into a recession, according to the latest survey by the National Association for Business Economics.

The group said in a report being released Monday that 45 percent 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 percent or higher.

The drumbeat of bad news since last fall has caused many analysts to consider a recession more likely now, said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, chief economist at Ford Motor Co. and NABE's current president.

The survey shows that 55 percent 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 percent this year, which would be the weakest growth in five years. That compares with an estimate of 2.5 percent growth for 2008 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. Helping accomplish that is a $168 billion federal aid plan, with its rebate checks for millions of families, and aggressive interest rate cuts from the Fed.

The panel of 47 top forecasters thinks "any recession, if it occurs, will be short and shallow," Hughes-Cromwick said.

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