A recession is a macroeconomic term that refers to a significant decline in general economic activity in a designated region. It had been typically recognized as two consecutive quarters of economic decline, as reflected by GDP in conjunction with monthly indicators such as a rise in unemployment. However, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which officially declares recessions, says the two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP are not how it is defined anymore. The NBER defines a recession as a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.1
A recession is a period of declining economic performance across an entire economy that lasts for several months.
Businesses, investors, and government officials track various economic indicators that can help predict or confirm the onset of recessions, but they’re officially declared by the NBER.
A variety of economic theories have been developed to explain how and why recessions occur.
Recessions are visible in industrial production, employment, real income, and wholesale-retail trade. The working definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), although the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) does not necessarily need to see this occur to call a recession, and uses more frequently reported monthly data to make its decision, so quarterly declines in GDP do not always align with the decision to declare a recession.
The NBER officially declared an end to the economic expansion in February of 2020 as the U.S. fell into a recession amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the long-term macroeconomic trend in most countries has been economic growth. Along with this long-term growth, however, have been short-term fluctuations when major macroeconomic indicators have shown slowdowns or even outright declining performance, over time frames of six months up to several years, before returning to their long-term growth trend. These short-term declines are known as recessions.
Recession is a normal, albeit unpleasant, part of the business cycle. Recessions are characterized by a rash of business failures and often bank failures, slow or negative growth in production, and elevated unemployment. The economic pain caused by recessions, though temporary, can have major effects that alter an economy. This can occur due to structural shifts in the economy as vulnerable or obsolete firms, industries, or technologies fail and are swept away; dramatic policy responses by government and monetary authorities, which can literally rewrite the rules for businesses; or social and political upheaval resulting from widespread unemployment and economic distress.
For investors, one of the best strategies to have during a recession is to invest in companies with low debt, good cash flow, and strong balance sheets. Conversely, avoid companies that are highly leveraged, cyclical, or speculative.