Just how likely is a recession?

If articles warning of a recession are a harbinger of an actual downturn, we're in trouble. You can't flip open a newspaper or click on a website without seeing warnings about a forthcoming downturn. Google searches for the r-word are spiking, much as they did the last time the economy tanked. Yet the unemployment rate remains near a 50-year low and job growth, though slower, keeps chugging along.

To help make sense of the moment, here are pictures of some of the key variables. Some are flashing - if not red, at least orange. Others look pretty good, considering all the worrisome chatter. Economists can't tell you when the next downturn will hit, but if you forced me to take a stand, I'd guess that consumers and balance sheets are solid enough to stave off a recession for at least the next few months. After that, we'll see.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline 'Just how likely is a recession?'. Print Edition | Subscribe