After years of more or less continuous growth and relatively low macroeconomic volatility during the years named “The Great Moderation”1, the US economy entered in December 20072 what seems to have been the deepest recession since The Great Depression3 The recession has been of relatively long duration and contained both a credit-crunch and a significant downturn in the housing market.
This has in turn resulted in rising unemployment and a monthly bankruptcy rate which has increased by almost 67%4 between Q3 2007, which was the quarter before the business cycle peak, and Q4 2008.
The probability for corporate success varies together with the business cycle, and there is no doubt that the state of the macro economy influences the rate of investor and corporate success. This means that the potential risks of changes in business cycle growth rate is a potential threat to all market participants, which needs to be handled through risk management.
This does not mean that it is possible to avoid business cycle risks altogether, but it simply means that these risks needs to be accounted for, and managed appropriately as part of a risk management scheme.
The vast studies of business cycles are invaluable to the possibilities of understanding the state of the macro economy and to be able to predict the future movements of the economy. Many of the most famous economists in history, such as Keynes and Schumpeter have been researching this subject, but in this section I will mainly use the research by The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) as their research is widely accepted among economists in the U.S. today.
This section will give an introduction to the different business cycle stages and how they are measured by NBER.
Even though the different business cycles can be described through relatively simple models such as the one explained in section ( U.S. business cycles ), the underlying reasons for the developments and the amplitude of the business cycles seems to be changing with each cycle. Wesley Clair Mitchell who was one of the early researchers of business cycles and leaders of NBER stated that; “since each business cycle in a sense is unique, a thoroughly adequate theory of business cycles, applicable to all cycles is unattainable” (Dua 2004, Page 1).
Because of the importance of understanding the status of the economy today to be able to predict the future, not all indicators need to be leading the economy. This means that not all indicators included in the approach will have strong predictive abilities. But as this is a forecasting approach, the assessment of the different indicators will always point towards their possible implications for the future.
After the introduction to economic indicators in section : macroeconomic forecasting through economic indicators, this section will look at the possibilities of predicting the recession starting in December 2007 using these indicators. Again it is important to remember that as this paper is written ex. post with revised data and a broad understanding of what went wrong1, it could easily be pointed at numerous of relatively detailed and complicated indications that something was fundamentally wrong with the US economy ahead of the recession.
From using the forecasting method above it should have been possible to predict that the economy would stagnate, and with high likelihood enter a recession, about 1,5 years before the dated recession. Also I argued that forecasters using this method should have been able to predict that the future recession would with high likelihood be of great magnitude at least 6 months before December 2007.
It has frequently been observed that interest in business or trade cycle theory is itself cyclical (e.g. Zarnowitz 1985, p.524). In periods of sustained prosperity interest wanes, as it did in the 1960s and early 1970s when research into macroeconomic dynamics concentrated on growth theory. At the end of the 1960s, the continued existence of business cycles was questioned. The experiences of the 1970s and early 1980s, especially following the 1973 and 1979 oil price shocks, brought a resurgence of interest in business cycles.