Are we already in a new recession?

The Federal Reserve has more or less gone all in with its open-ended quantitative easing. The government’s fiscal mechanism is paralyzed and a large portion of the electorate has no appetite for further fiscal stimulus. If the American economy were to go into a so-called “double-dip” recession the government would be especially hard-pressed to drag us out. It would be a huge blow to the nation’s confidence and would lead to shrinking government revenues and further net job loss in both the public and private sectors.

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For those reasons, it’s more than a little frightening that we’re seeing a spate of depressing numbers that could signal a recession on the horizon — or that one is already here. On Thursday the Commerce Department revised down its estimate of second-quarter GDP growth to 1.3% from an already sluggish 1.7%. If that weren’t bad enough, the Department also reported that orders of durable goods – long-lasting pieces of equipment like airplanes or heavy machinery – fell 13.2% in August. And Friday, the Project Management Institute was out with a survey which showed that manufacturing activity in the Chicago region was contracting, surprising many analysts. While it’s unwise to read too much into any one of these data, the three in succession are unsettling.

These data also give ammo to bearish commentators who have long been predicting a recession in either late 2012 or early 2013.