Chicago and the toddlin’ recovery

November 23, 2009

It may not get as much attention as the monthly employment report or GDP figures, but the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s gauge of the national economy has a good track record of distinguishing economic expansions from recessions. And it’s suggesting that the U.S. recovery may be wobbling.

Over at the econbrowser blog, economist James Hamilton points us to a recent research paper that examines how accurate the various economic indicators are at telling us when the economy is growing or contracting. The Chicago Fed’s national index was one of the best. And Monday’s report shows it faded in October.

Not only that, but its three-month moving average fell to -0.91 in October from -0.67 in September, declining for the first time in 2009. That drop was especially significant because the Chicago Fed says a move below -0.70 in the three-month moving average following a period of economic expansion indicates an increasing likelihood that a recession has begun.

Of course, the people who are tasked with determining when recessions begin and end haven’t called the latest one over yet. So is this report showing a speed bump on the way to a recovery or something more ominous?  


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