Comparing Coverage of Industrial Production Declines: 2008 v. 2000-2001

The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that April industrial production fell, the second negative reading in the past three months. Specifically, February and April fell by 0.7%, and March showed an increase of 0.2%.

In May 2001, that same report showed that production fell for the seventh consecutive month.

Seasonally adjusted data from the Fed indicates that industrial production during those seven months (October 2000 through April 2001) fell 2.6%.

During the past seven months (October 2007 through April 2008), industrial production has fallen 1.7%.

Guess which set of circumstances generated more talk of recession?

Covering the the 2001 report, the New York Times, appearing ever mindful that a Republican had occupied the White House less than four months, kept talk of a recession to a bare minimum:

Production At Factories Decreases For 7th Month

Industrial production fell in April for a seventh consecutive month, the longest string of declines since 1982.

Production at factories, mines and utilities declined 0.3 percent last month, after falling 0.1 percent in March, the Federal Reserve said. Manufacturing of business equipment, appliances and metals all dropped in April.

..... The string of declines in industrial production is the longest since March-December 1982. The economy was in recession from July 1981 to November 1982, according to statistics from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Note that the Times made no attempt to claim that the country was currently in a recession.

The Associated Press' Martin Crutsinger technically didn't do that either, but he got as close as he possibly could while raising R-word specter and playing clever word games (bolds are mine):

Industrial output falls, second time in 3 months

Industrial output plunged in April as factories making everything from autos to heavy machinery felt the adverse effects of the weak economy. Analysts held out hope that production will revive in the second half of the year, helped by the government's economic stimulus checks.

Industrial production dropped 0.7 percent last month, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday, more than double the decline that economists had expected.

..... Brian Bethune, an economist at Global Insight, said production will shrink again this quarter, marking the third negative quarter, the longest stretch of weakness in manufacturing since the last recession in 2001.

Bethune predicted a mild rebound for manufacturers starting this summer when consumers start spending 130 million economic stimulus checks that are now being mailed out.

"That extra cash is expected to roll gradually into consumer spending by June," he said, calling the timing "indeed fortuitous." Many analysts believe the $168 billion stimulus program Congress passed in February will not keep the country from toppling into a recession but will make the downturn shorter and milder than it otherwise would have been

..... The weak economy has triggered four straight months of job losses, often a sign that a recession has started. However, the April drop was just one-fourth the size of job losses in March, giving hope that the current economic slowdown may not be as severe as the past two recessions.

Clever Crutsinger is treating "recession," "downturn," and "current economic slowdown" (emphasis "current") as synonyms. This would appear to be his lame attempt to get his "we're in a recession" digs in while claiming plausible deniability.

There is nowhere near the level of evidence available to credibly claim that a recession is underway. Economic growth has been positive if anemic, the unemployment rate declined in April, and the weighted average of the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing and non-manufacturing indices is decidedly positive.

Yet Crutsinger, as noted last week, continues to "cling to recession."

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.