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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: The NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee

Economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research have long conducted research on the business cycle that included dating the beginning and end of recessions using a large number of economic indicators.  Overtime, their more sophisticated statistically driven dating process has replaced a rule of thumb that defines a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of contraction of GDP that ends with a resumption of growth of GDP.  They are notoriously careful and slow at the dating process, in this case an indicator of good science.  The act of not pronouncing the end of the recession does not mean that it is not over.  When they do name a date for the end of the recession, the announcement may say that it ended a year earlier.  The NBER April 12, 2010 memo reads       
The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research met at the organization’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 8, 2010. The committee reviewed the most recent data for all indicators relevant to the determination of a possible date of the trough in economic activity marking the end of the recession that began in December 2007. The trough date would identify the end of contraction and the beginning of expansion. Although most indicators have turned up, the committee decided that the determination of the trough date on the basis of current data would be premature. Many indicators are quite preliminary at this time and will be revised in coming months. The committee acts only on the basis of actual indicators and does not rely on forecasts in making its determination of the dates of peaks and troughs in economic activity. The committee did review data relating to the date of the peak, previously determined to have occurred in December 2007, marking the onset of the recent recession. The committee reaffirmed that peak date.

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