Downward trend in the business cycle characterized by a decline in production and employment, which in turn lowers household income and spending. Even though not all households and businesses experience actual declines in income, they become less certain about the future and consequently delay making large purchases or investments. Consumers buy fewer durable household goods, and businesses are less likely to purchase machinery and equipment and more likely to use up existing inventory instead of adding goods to their stock. This drop in demand leads to a corresponding fall in output and thus worsens the economic situation. Whether a recession develops into a severe and prolonged depression depends on a number of circumstances. Among them are the extent and quality of credit extended during the previous period of prosperity, the amount of speculation permitted, the ability of government monetary and fiscal policies to reverse (or minimize) the downward trend, and the amount of excess productive capacity. Compare depression.
Learn more about recession with a free trial on Britannica.com.
American newspapers often quote the rule of thumb that a recession occurs when real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is negative for two or more consecutive quarters. This measure fails to register several official (NBER defined) US recessions.
A recession has many attributes that can occur simultaneously and can include declines in coincident measures of overall economic activity such as employment, investment, and corporate profits. Recessions are the result of falling demand and may be associated with falling prices (deflation), or sharply rising prices (inflation) or a combination of rising prices and stagnant economic growth (stagflation). A severe or prolonged recession is referred to as an economic depression. Although the distinction between a recession and a depression is not clearly defined, it is often said that a decline in GDP of more than 10% constitutes a depression. A devastating breakdown of an economy (essentially, a severe depression, or hyperinflation, depending on the circumstances) is called economic collapse.
There are no completely reliable predictors. These are regarded to be possible predictors.
Both government and business have responses to recessions. In the Philadelphia Business Journal, Strategic Business adviser Carter Schelling has discussed precautions businesses take to prepare for looming recession, likening it to fire drill. First, he suggests that business owners gauge customers' ability to resist recession and redesign customer offerings accordingly. He goes on to suggest they use lean principles, replace unhappy workers with those more motivated, eager and highly competitive. Also over-communicate. "Companies," he says, "get better at what they do during bad times." He calls his program the "Recession Drill."
Siegel points out that cuts in the Federal funds rate are now widely anticipated; thus, cuts are no longer followed by a longer-term rise in stock market indexes.
The declining frequency of recessions in the past two decades and the reduction in declines in GDP suggest that the Federal Reserve has been successful in moderating contractions. However some critics argue that reducing the Federal funds rate has had the effect of adding too much liquidity to the financial markets and excess debt accumulation by consumers. Empirical research by the staff of European Central Bank showed a correlation between excessive money growth and the depth of post-boom recessions.
Since the business cycle is very hard to predict, Siegel argues that it is not possible to take advantage of economic cycles for timing investments. Even the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) takes a few months to determine if a peak or trough has occurred in the US.
During an economic decline, high yield stocks such as financial services, pharmaceuticals, and tobacco tend to hold up better. However when the economy starts to recover and the bottom of the market has passed (sometimes identified on charts as a MACD ), growth stocks tend to recover faster. There is significant disagreement about how health care and utilities tend to recover. Diversifying one's portfolio into international stocks may provide some safety; however, economies that are closely correlated with that of the U.S.A. may also be affected by a recession in the U.S.A..
The 1981 recession is thought to have been caused by the tight-money policy adopted by Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, before Ronald Reagan took office. Reagan supported that policy. Economist Walter Heller, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the 1960s, said that "I call it a Reagan-Volcker-Carter recession. The resulting taming of inflation, did, however, set the stage for a robust growth period during Reagan's administration.
It is generally assumed that government activity has some influence over the presence or degree of a recession. Economists usually teach that to some degree recession is unavoidable, and its causes are not well understood. Consequently, modern government administrations attempt to take steps, also not agreed upon, to soften a recession. They are often unsuccessful, at least at preventing a recession, and it is difficult to establish whether or not they actually made it less severe or long lasting.
Understanding of the word "recession" differs between economists, newspapers, and the general public. Generally speaking, a recession is present when graphs are sloping down in respect to production and employment. Consequently, a politician can truthfully say "the recession is over," even though little has improved. This may imply to the public that the economy is in recovery, suggesting the graphs are sloping upward, though there may actually exist a period of stagnation, when numbers remain low even though they are no longer dropping.
There is no commonly accepted definition of a global recession. The IMF estimates that global recessions seem to occur over a cycle lasting between 8 and 10 years. During what the IMF terms the past three global recessions of the last three decades, global per capita output growth was zero or negative.
Economists at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) state that a global recession would take a slowdown in global growth to three percent or less. By this measure, three periods since 1985 qualify: 1990-1993, 1998 and 2001-2002.
From 1991 to 2000, the U.S. experienced 37 quarters of economic expansion, the longest period of expansion on record.
For the past three recessions, the NBER decision has approximately confirmed with the definition involving two consecutive quarters of decline. However the 2001 recession did not involve two consecutive quarters of decline, it was preceded by two quarters of alternating decline and weak growth.
In January 2008, the IMF predicted that 2008 global growth would fall from 4.9 percent to 4.0 percent (as measured in terms of purchasing power parity), however 2 months later it was announced that this projection was not low enough.
There was significant speculation about a possible U.S. recession in 2008. If such a recession happened, it was expected to have a global impact. The U.S. represents about 21 percent of the global economy, and impact of a U.S. recession could spread through the following:
U.S. employers shed 63,000 jobs in February 2008, the most in five years. Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on April 6, 2008 that "There is more than a 50 percent chance the United States could go into recession." . On October 1st, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that an additional 156,000 jobs had been lost in September. On April 29, 2008, nine US states were declared by Moody’s to be in a recession.
Although the US Economy grew in the first quarter by 1%, by June 2008 some analysts stated that due to a protracted credit crisis and "rampant inflation in commodities such as oil, food and steel", the country was nonetheless in a recession.