Economists: Recession getting worse

Survey at private-sector companies forecasts greater job losses and worsening economic conditions in the months to come.

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By David Goldman, staff writer

Do you expect to change jobs soon?
  • Yes, I'm worried about layoffs.
  • Yes, I'm hoping to move up.
  • No, fingers crossed. I'm happy where I am.
  • Not sure.

NEW YORK ( -- Economists expect an already deep recession to get even worse in 2009, according to a survey released Monday.

Companies will lay off more workers and hoard more cash during the next 12 months, according to the National Association for Business Economics survey, a quarterly take from a panel of economists at private-sector companies in various industries. A vast majority of the 105 economists polled believe the country's gross domestic product will continue to sink in 2009.

If business conditions indeed worsen during the year, they will be sinking from already historic lows. The survey's measures of consumer demand, profit margins and capital expenditures all hit their lowest-ever levels in January's edition of the 27-year old survey.

"NABE's January 2009 Industry Survey depicts the worst business conditions since the survey began in 1982, confirming that the U.S. recession deepened in the fourth quarter of 2008," said Sara Johnson, a NABE economist.

Nearly half - 47% - of surveyed economists said overall industry demand was falling, compared with 35% who said so in the October survey. Just 10% of respondents said profit margins were rising, compared with 52% who believe they are falling. And 38% of economists said capital expenses are falling, up from just 15% in October.

Credit conditions hurt businesses, according to the economists, as customers had less leverage to buy discretionary products. 78% of respondents said tightening credit conditions affected customers, and 52% said the credit crunch directly hurt businesses in their industries.

Pessimistic outlook on weak environment

With business conditions souring, the outlook for jobs has grown increasingly negative. 39% of economists believe their industries will lay off employees in the next six months, compared with 32% in October.

The forecast was particularly poor for the goods-producing sector, in which 69% of economists saw layoffs in the future, and no one believed the industry would be adding jobs. Service-sector economists were the most optimistic, with only 9% seeing layoffs and 29% saying their industry would be hiring in the next six months.

Companies will likely curtail spending in the coming months as well, according to the survey. 44% of the economists believed capital spending in their industries would fall off in the coming year, compared with just 16% who believed their businesses would increase spending.

Rising unemployment, tightening credit conditions and a difficult lending environment led economists to give a more pessimistic outlook on growth for 2009.

Just 22% believed the U.S. economy would expand this year, down from 62% who thought so in October. Although 26% now believe the economy will shrink less than 1% this year, 52% now think the economy will shrink by more than 1%, which no one predicted in October. To top of page

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