U.S. economic outlook improves

More than 80 per cent of economists believe the recession is over and an expansion has begun, but they expect the recovery will be slow as worries over unemployment and high federal debt persist.

NEW YORK — More than 80 per cent of economists believe the recession is over and an expansion has begun, but they expect the recovery will be slow as worries over unemployment and high federal debt persist.

That consensus comes from leading forecasters in a survey by the National Association for Business Economics released Monday.

“The survey found that the vast majority of business economists believe that the recession has ended but that the economic recovery is likely to be more moderate than those typically experienced following steep declines,” said NABE president-elect Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University.

The forecasters upgraded the economic outlook for the next several quarters, but cautioned that unemployment rates and the federal deficit are expected to remain high through the next year. Forecasters now expect the economy, as measured by gross domestic product, to advance at a 2.9 per cent pace in the second half of the year, after falling for four straight quarters for the first time on records dating to 1947. They expect a three per cent gain in 2010.

Still, the federal deficit has ballooned and the jobless rate is expected to lag, as employers remain cautious.

The unemployment rate rose to 9.8 per cent in September from 9.7 per cent, the Labour Department said earlier this month, the highest in 26 years.

Forecasters expect the unemployment rate to continue to rise, to 10 per cent in the first quarter of next year, before edging down to 9.5 per cent by the end of 2010.

The recession, the worst since the 1930s, has eliminated a net total of 7.2 million jobs. More job cuts were announced last week. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., which makes industrial and scientific equipment, said it will close a plant in Dubuque, Iowa, next year, costing 350 jobs.

Worries about unemployment are likely to continue to constrain household spending. Personal consumption spending likely began rising in the second half of this year, but is expected to remain low in 2010. Still, Americans aren’t expected to save as much as they have in past decades. The savings rate is expected to be above the two per cent average of the past four years, but below the nine per cent average in the 1970s and 1980s.

The housing recovery is one bright spot. Forecasters expect 2010 to be the first year since 2005 that the housing sector will contribute to overall growth. Home prices are expected to rise two per cent in 2010, but panelists do not believe that will stifle the housing recovery.

Inflation is expected to remain low due to the weak labour market and other factors. Thus, the NABE panel — which consists of 44 economists surveyed Sept. 2 through Sept. 24 — expects the federal funds rate to remain at its current record low near zero until late next spring, before a gradual rise begins.

“The good news is that this deep and long recession appears to be over, and with improving credit markets, the U.S. economy can return to solid growth next year without worry about rising inflation,” said Reaser.

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