Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is the Recession Over?

by Bill McBride on 7/15/2009 11:34:00 AM

Last night Merrill Lynch declared the recession over.

From Tom Petruno at the LA Times: 'Recession is over,' BofA Merrill Lynch tells investors

And from CNBC:

It is usually difficult to tell when a recession has ended - especially for a jobless recovery.

It took the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Business Cycle Dating Committee over a year and half after the 2001 recession ended to call the trough of the cycle. And it took 21 months after the 1990-1991 recession ended for NBER to date the end of the recession.

From the 2003 announcement of the end of the 2001 recession:
The committee waited to make the determination of the trough date until it was confident that any future downturn in the economy would be considered a new recession and not a continuation of the recession that began in March 2001.
The economy was still struggling in 2003 - especially employment - but the NBER committee members felt that any subsequent downturn would be considered a separate recession:
The committee noted that the most recent data indicate that the broadest measure of economic activity-gross domestic product in constant dollars-has risen 4.0 percent from its low in the third quarter of 2001, and is 3.3 percent above its pre-recession peak in the fourth quarter of 2000. Two other indicators of economic activity that play an important role in the committee's decisions-personal income excluding transfer payments and the volume of sales of the manufacturing and wholesale-retail sectors, both in real terms-have also surpassed their pre-recession peaks. Two other indicators the committee focuses on-payroll employment and industrial production-remain well below their pre-recession peaks. Indeed, the most recent data indicate that employment has not begun to recover at all. The committee determined, however, that the fact that the broadest, most comprehensive measure of economic activity is well above its pre-recession levels implied that any subsequent downturn in the economy would be a separate recession.
This is relevant to today. It is very likely that any recovery will be very sluggish, and if the economy turns down within the next 6 to 12 months, the NBER would probably consider that a continuation of the Great Recession.

Here is the NBER dating procedure.

Note that the trough of the 1980 recession was only 12 months before the beginning of the 1981 recession, but the short recovery was fairly robust with real GDP up 4.4%. Those two recessions are frequently called a "double dip" recession, but the NBER considers them as two separate recessions.

I think the "official" recession will probably end sometime in the 2nd half of 2009, but the recovery will be very sluggish and there is a risk of a double dip recession. Roubini argues that the recession will end sometime in early 2010. Maybe. But I also think it will feel like a recession for some time, since the unemployment rate will probably rise through most of 2010, and stay elevated for a long period (a jobless recovery).