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Dating a recession

FRED marks the spot

A recession is a significant decline in general economic activity extending over a period of time. During recessions, unemployment increases and real income decreases.

FRED helps provide context to the data by showing when these recessions have occurred: Since 2006, every FRED series of U.S. data has included the option to display shaded areas on the graph to indicate the peaks and troughs of business cycles, as dated by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

The Business Cycle Dating Committee at the NBER dates the start of each recession after a lag of several months and dates the end of a recession after an even longer lag: According to the NBER, business cycle peaks are announced an average of 7.8 months after their dating and business cycle troughs are announced an average of 15.8 months after their dating.

The FRED team quickly updates its database with any new information. In fact, the recession that started in February 2020 is now visible on the FRED graph above. In graphs with data at a daily frequency, the peak of the business cycle is marked by a bar set on February 1, 2020. In graphs with monthly data, it is marked by a vertical line.

FRED can’t yet set a recession end date, so from February 2020 onward the graph is shaded. But if you want to gauge when the current recession may be over (ahead of official word from the NBER), consult these FRED series: a recession probability index computed by Marcelle Chauvet and Jeremy Piger and the real-time Sahm Rule Recession Indicator. When the recession probability index has substantially decreased or the Sahm indicator has peaked, the recession has likely ended. Check the FRED data regularly so you get that good news asap.

How this graph was created: Search for “10-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Minus 2-Year Treasury Constant Maturity” and expand the date range to include the recession that lasted from December 3, 2007, to June 3, 2009.

Suggested by Keith Taylor, Yvetta Fortova, and Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: T10Y2Y

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