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Betting on a recession: some economists put odds at better than even

January 09, 2008 | www.bostonherald.com

Economists and others are ratcheting up the odds of a “recession” occurring soon due to weak jobs growth, housing-market woes, the financial crunch and rising energy prices.

Harvard economist Martin Feldstein is the latest to say the odds of a recession have risen to more than 50 percent.

“We are now talking about more likely than not,” said Feldstein, head of the Cambridge-based National Bureau of Economic Research, which dates business cycles and traditionally determines when a recession begins and ends.

Feldstein’s gloomy forecast, which he made in an interview with Bloomberg News, follows former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s recent comment that the odds of a recession are now at about 50 percent.

Other economists and experts contacted by the Herald yesterday also said they’re increasingly concerned about an economic contraction.

John Bitner, an economist at Boston’s Eastern Investment Advisers, said he puts the odds at about 40 percent.

“I think we’re going to skirt a recession. But it’s going to be close. Very close,” he said yesterday.

Michael Goodman, director of economic and public policy research at the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute, said last week’s report that the national economy only generated 18,000 jobs in December was a clear sign the economy is slowing.

The housing-market slowdown, the falling value of the dollar and global uncertainity about the war on terrorism make forecasts of a 50-percent chance of a recession “sound reasonable,” he said.

Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings, while not giving odds, said a recession is coming - and it’s going to hurt.

“It’s going to be one of the worst recessions we’ve had in a while because we had so many excesses going into it,” Rogers said.

Lawrence Summers, a Harvard economist and former U.S. Treasury secretary, wrote in a Financial Times piece that a recession is now more likely - unless the Fed and Congress take aggressive action to prevent one.

Robert MacIntosh, chief economist at Boston’s Eaton Vance Management, said the chances of a recession in 2008 at 25 percent.

Steve Andrews, vice president of Capital Markets at Sovereign Bank, agreed that the odds are around 25 percent.

“We definitely have a lot more yellow lights flashing than we did a month ago.”

By Jay Fitzgerald

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