From the Wall Street Journal:
Most Economists Say Recession Has Arrived as Outlook Darkens
By PHIL IZZO
March 13, 2008
The U.S. has finally slid into recession, according to the majority of economists in the latest Wall Street Journal economic-forecasting survey, a view that was reinforced by new data showing a sharp drop in retail sales last month.
“The evidence is now beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Scott Anderson of Wells Fargo & Co., who was among the 71% of 51 respondents to say that the economy is now in a recession.
The Commerce Department said Thursday that retail sales tumbled 0.6% in February; sales excluding volatile auto and parts decreased 0.2%. The decline reflected a sharp slowdown in consumer spending, the primary driver of U.S. economic growth, as Americans grapple with high gasoline prices and the credit crunch, as well as drops in home values and other asset prices.
The survey, conducted March 7 through March 11, marked a precipitous shift to the negative from the previous survey conducted five weeks earlier. For example, the economists now expect nonfarm payrolls to grow by an average of only 9,000 jobs a month for the next 12 months — down from an expected 48,500 in the previous survey. Twenty economists now expect payrolls to shrink outright. And the average forecast for the unemployment rate was raised to 5.5% by December from 4.8% in the previous survey.
Much of the gloom stemmed from last Friday’s employment report, which showed a loss of 63,000 jobs in February, the second consecutive monthly decline. “My recession call comes from the employment data,” said Stephen Stanley of RBS Greenwich Capital. “It struck me as a recessionary number.”
Twenty-nine of 55 respondents said they expect the economy to contract in the current quarter and 25 expect it to do so in the second. The average of all the forecasts is for meager growth — just 0.1% at an annual rate in the current quarter and 0.4% in the second.
The economists also expressed growing concerns that a 2008 recession could be worse than both the 2001 and 1990-91 downturns. They put the odds of a deeper downturn at an average 48%, up from 39% in the previous survey. Mark Nielson of MacroEcon Global Advisors said that “we recognize the previous two recessions were mild and, if a recession does occur, it is likely to be slightly worse than the previous two.”
One thing is clear: The darkening economic outlook has made Ben Bernanke’s job less secure, especially with a new president about to enter the White House. The economists gave the Fed chairman just a 59% chance of being reappointed in 2010. “If a Democrat is elected he won’t be reappointed, and [presumptive Republican presidential nominee John] McCain may opt for another, too,” said David Resler of Nomura Securities. “The problems occurred on his watch,” added Ram Bhagavatula of Combinatorics Capital.