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Odds of US recession now at 50%: Blue Chip forecast

Outlook dampened by data showing a contraction in hiring, consumer spending

(WASHINGTON) The odds of a US recession have increased and stand at nearly 50 per cent amid a spate of data showing a weakening labour market, signs of more credit tightening and turmoil in the financial markets, the latest Blue Chip economic forecast projects.

A month ago, economists in this closely watched forecast put the chance that the world’s richest economy would fall into recession at 40 per cent, but government data showing a contraction in hiring, slowed consumer spending and other reports pointing to sagging business activity have indicated a much more deteriorated outlook.

Among those economists, slightly more than 20 per cent are now expecting to see the economy contract in at least one or two quarters.

‘The economic malaise that originated in the housing sector during 2006 (and) spread to the financial market in 2007, now appears to be infecting Main Street,’ the newsletter wrote.

And even as the economy slows, inflation is expected to creep higher.

The majority of those surveyed between Feb 5 and 6, however, continue to say that a recession will be avoided.

But growth is going to be weak.

Economists are now projecting that the economy will grow by just 1.7 per cent in all of 2008, down from the 2.2 per cent forecast a month ago.

Blue Chip economists are expecting that the Federal Reserve will continue to cut interest rates to help avert a recession. They expect that the central bank will reduce its target federal funds rate by at least half a percentage point more this year.

Last month, the Fed cut benchmark interest rates by a sharp 1.25 percentage points in a bold move to support growth as weakness, which was largely contained in the housing market last year, began to spread.

The series of recent cuts took overnight rates, which stood at 5.25 per cent in early September, down to 3 per cent.

But those rate cuts may fuel inflation, a concern that has been voiced by a growing number of economists and some Fed officials.

‘Despite lowered expectations for economic growth, consensus forecasts of inflation this year continued to creep higher,’ the newsletter said.

Consumer prices, excluding food and energy, are expected to increase 2.3 per cent in 2008 and by 2.2 per cent in 2009, well above the Fed’s 2 per cent comfort ceiling.

New home building activity is expected to drop by 25 per cent from levels seen in 2007.

‘All of our panelists think real residential investment will remain a drag on GDP growth during the first half of this year and 42 per cent of them say it will subtract from GDP growth throughout 2008,’ the newsletter said.

The consensus predicts that sales of both new and existing homes will fall another 14 per cent this year and prices will decline 9.3 per cent.

Even so, the trade sector is expected to remain the bright spot in the economy, as the decline in the value of the US dollar and better growth abroad has fuelled demand for American goods.

 

Source: Reuters (Business Times 11 Feb 08)

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