The U.S. downturn will be the longest in three decades, and the drought in consumer spending may be the worst ever, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
The implosion of credit markets last month will cause the economy to shrink at a 3 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter and decline at a 1.5 percent pace in the first three months of 2009, according to the median estimate of 59 economists surveyed Nov. 3 to Nov. 11. Following last quarter’s 0.3 percent drop, the slump would be the longest since 1974-75.
“The economy fell off a cliff in October,” said Richard Berner, co-head of global economics at Morgan Stanley in New York. “We had a huge financial shock that intensified the credit crunch and triggered a sharp downturn.”
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Declines in household spending will extend into next year as the worst financial crisis in seven decades forces employers to keep cutting payrolls on top of the 1.2 million jobs already lost this year. President-elect Barack Obama has said the U.S. needs a second economic stimulus package “sooner rather than later.”
The pace of contraction this quarter would be the worst since 1990. Berner is among economists projecting the current slump will also be the most serious in a quarter century as the lack of credit causes a reinforcing, vicious circle of declines in confidence, spending and hiring.
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“All of these adverse feedback loops are working to reinforce the downturn,” he said. “At the moment, it looks like the deepest U.S. recession since ’81.”
Some members of the group that officially determines when U.S. contractions begin and end are even more pessimistic.