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Fact Check: Is all this talk of a recession warranted?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The talk has been gloomy. The stock market is falling. Corporate profits are weakening. The media is talking the economy down.

But the fact is, the economy is not in a recession, and probably won't be anytime soon, according to nearly all economic forecasts.

"I think the media has really gone overboard on this issue of recession," said Gail Fosler of the Conference Board. "I mean, I wouldn't doubt that in some sense we have an earnings recession from a corporate standpoint, but we're really quite far from having an economic recession."

The latest Blue Chip survey of 49 leading business economists shows the consensus prediction is for growth to remain positive -- and accelerate again before the coming summer.

The Blue Chip forecast has economic growth slowing from a modest annual rate of 2.2 percent in the final three months of 2000 to a somewhat sluggish 1.9 percent in the first three months of this year. Then, picking up in subsequent quarters, to 2.5 percent; 3.1 percent, and back to a healthy 3.5 percent by the end of the year.

The melded view of these 49 forecasters is for unemployment -- now near a 30-year low -- to rise but only slightly, leveling off around 4.5 percent. That, historically, is still quite low.

In a real recession, the economy shrinks.

To be sure, even some optimistic economists are worried.

"The risks of recession have risen," said Lyle Gramley, a consulting economist with the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. "I think they are less than 50-50 now, but not a lot less than 50-50."

An unforeseen shock, such as another big jump in oil prices or a collapse in the stock market, could turn slow growth into an actual decline in jobs and income. But until then, all the talk of doom and gloom may have gone too far.

"The media always gets a little bit manic depressive at times like this," said David Wyss, chief economist with Standard and Poor. "You know, a year ago nothing bad could ever happen to the economy. Now, the sky is falling."

For now, the consensus still predicts positive growth in jobs, and incomes still rising faster than inflation.

So, despite all the talk of a looming recession, economists who actually predict one are still in a tiny minority. The rest see the economy just taking a breather -- a slowdown in what is already the longest boom in history.


Wednesday, January 10, 2001



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