Australian economic growth has slowed to the weakest since the GFC. Talk of recession remains all the rage. And economists don’t have a great track record in predicting recessions globally – with an IMF study finding that of 153 recessions seen in 63 countries around the world between 1992 and 2014, economic forecasters only predicted five in April of the year before they started - so why should they pick one this time?
As someone who forecast two of the last one recessions in Australia I am a bit wary. Perhaps the best way to predict recessions would be to forecast one every year and then you would have a perfect track record in predicting them! Some actually do this. But they are totally useless because they miss out on the 90% or so of the time that countries are not in recession and the positive lead this provides for share markets and other growth assets.
Recessions come along when there is a shock to the system (usually high interest rates), invariably at a time when the economy is vulnerable after a period of excess (such as rapid growth in spending, debt or inflation). The shock causes a loss of confidence, lots of little spending decisions are delayed and excesses are unwound. But given the natural tendency of most economies to grow given population growth and new innovations, increasing economic diversity, counter cyclical economic policies and the rise of the more stable services sector recessions are relatively rare at around 10-12% of the time globally. In Australia the last one was 28 years ago.