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STILL SLOW, BUT RECESSION 'LIKELY OVER'

Bailouts, tight credit and low confidence will moderate growth.

New York Times

WASHINGTON - The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said Tuesday it was "very likely" that the recession had ended, although he cautioned it could be months before unemployment rates drop significantly.

"Even though from a technical perspective the recession is very likely over at this point, it's still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time as many people will still find that their job security and their employment status is not what they wish it was," Bernanke said in response to a question about unemployment trends.

"That's a challenge for us and all policymakers going forward."

The cautiously optimistic assessment came at the end of a speech at the Brookings Institution marking a year after a market crisis that was precipitated by the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers.

Bernanke said the consensus of economic forecasters was for moderate economic growth for the remainder of this year and next, particularly as credit markets thaw, consumer confidence takes time to heal and the federal government begins to unwind spending and lending programs intended to mend the economy.

"The general view of forecasters is that growth in 2010 will be moderate, less than you might expect given the depth of the recession," Bernanke said, because of several issues, including continuing financial and credit problems, de-leveraging by households and the need to end the economic stimulus programs. All these elements will "make the 2010 recovery moderate, in particular not much faster than the underlying growth rate of the economy," he added.

Business cycles are officially dated by a committee of economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The committee often spends many months sifting through economic trends before declaring the beginning and end dates of a recession. The latest recession began 12 months before it was officially declared in December 2008 by the committee.

For policymakers in Washington, a more significant question than the actual date of the end of the current recession will be when to begin unwinding the myriad of lending and guarantee programs that were hastily created in response to the crisis.

Officials at the Federal Reserve have already begun to consider the question.

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