What Are the Odds of a Financial Depression?

[Commentary]

Here’s an op-ed from the WSJ on international evidence suggestions there is a 20 % chance the American stock market will get much worse.

The most serious concern is that the downturn will become something worse than the largest recession of the post-World War II period — 1982, when real per capita GDP fell by 3% and the unemployment rate peaked at nearly 11%. Could we even experience a depression (defined as a decline in per-person GDP or consumption by 10% or more)?

The U.S. macroeconomy has been so tame for so long that it’s impossible to get an accurate reading about depression odds just from the U.S. data. My approach uses long-term data for many countries and takes into account the historical linkages between depressions and stock-market crashes. (The research is described in “Stock-Market Crashes and Depressions,” a working paper Jose Ursua and I wrote for the National Bureau of Economic Research last month.)

The bottom line is that there is ample reason to worry about slipping into a depression. There is a roughly one-in-five chance that U.S. GDP and consumption will fall by 10% or more, something not seen since the early 1930s.

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