The biggest slump in U.S. consumer spending since 1942 will extend the recession and push the jobless rate to the highest level in a quarter century, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
Household spending will drop 1 percent in 2009, the biggest decline since after the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to the median estimate of 51 economists surveyed Dec. 4 through Dec. 9. By the middle of next year, the economy will have shrunk for a record four consecutive quarters, the survey showed.
“That sounds scary enough to me,” said Jeffrey Frankel, an economics professor at Harvard University and a member of the group that determined the start of the recession. “Consumers have carried the weight of expanding demand for a long time at the expense of a serious deterioration of their balance sheets.”
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A drop in spending has brought the auto industry to the brink of collapse, and mounting unemployment, a lack of credit, and falling property and stock values will prompt Americans to turn even more frugal. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to pursue the biggest public-works plan since the 1950s to stem the already year-old economic slump.
“It’s a serious recession, and there’s a good chance it will break the 16-month record since the Depression,” said James O’Sullivan, a senior economist at UBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. “We’re at the stage where the weakness is feeding on itself. The next few months look pretty rough.”
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The National Bureau of Economic Research last week announced the U.S. contraction began in December 2007. The longest economic slumps since 1945 were the 16-month downturns that ended in March 1975 and November 1982. The Great Depression lasted 43 months, from August 1929 to March 1933.
A report from the Commerce Department today showed wholesale inventories fell 1.1 percent in October, the most in seven years, as a record 4.1 percent drop in sales caused companies to scale back.