The definition of a recession is negative economic growth for two consecutive quarters. This means a fall in Real GDP, - lower National income and lower National Output. However, it is worth noting some people talk of a recession, even when growth is very low.
A recession is characterised by:
- Rising unemployment (often unemployment is a delayed factor) i.e. it takes time for unemployment to rise, but, even when the economy is recovering, it takes time for unemployment to fall.
- Rising Government Borrowing. A recession is bad news for the government budget. A recession leads to lower tax revenues (lower income tax and corporation tax revenues) and higher government spending on unemployment benefits. The UK is forecast to borrow £60 billion, a recession could make this borrowing even worse in 2009. This borrowing means higher taxes and higher interest payments in the future.
- Falling Share Prices. Generally a recession leads to lower profitability and lower dividends. Therefore, shares are less attractive. Note share prices often fall in anticipation of a recession. e.g. the recent falls in share prices are largely because the market expects a recession soon. During the actual recession, share prices often increase in anticipation of the economy recovering. Note also, falling share prices don't always mean a recession, falling share prices can occur for many other reasons.
- Lower Inflation. Typically a recession reduces demand and wage inflation. This should result in a lower inflation rate. However, this recession is complicated because of rising oil prices. Therefore, the forthcoming recession may actually occur simultaneously with higher inflation - a term known as stagflation. But, a recession will definitely reduce demand pull inflation pressures and encourages price wars on the high street as firms seek to retain consumers.
- Falling investment. Investment is much more volatile than economic growth. Even a slowdown in the growth rate (economy expanding at a slower rate) can lead to a significant fall in investment.