STAGES OF A BUSINESS CYCLE
RECESSION A recession—also sometimes referred to as a trough—is a period of reduced economic activity in which levels of buying, selling, production, and employment typically diminish. This is the most unwelcome stage of the business cycle for business owners and consumers alike. A particularly severe recession is known as a depression. RECOVERY Also known as an upturn, the recovery stage of the business cycle is the point at which the economy "troughs" out and starts working its way up to better financial footing. GROWTH Economic growth is in essence a period of sustained expansion. Hallmarks of this part of the business cycle include increased consumer confidence, which translates into higher levels of business activity. Because the economy tends to operate at or near full capacity during periods of prosperity, growth periods are also generally accompanied by inflationary pressures. DECLINE Also referred to as a contraction or downturn, a decline basically marks the end of the period of growth in the business cycle. Declines are characterized by decreased levels of consumer purchases (especially of durable goods) and, subsequently, reduced production by businesses. FACTORS THAT SHAPE BUSINESS CYCLES
For centuries, economists in both the United States and Europe regarded economic downturns as "diseases" that had to be treated; it followed, then, that economies characterized by growth and affluence were regarded as "healthy" economies. By the end of the 19th century, however, many economists had begun to recognize that economies were cyclical by their very nature, and studies increasingly turned to determining which factors were primarily responsible for shaping the direction and disposition of national, regional, and industry-specific economies. Today, economists, corporate executives, and business owners cite several factors as particularly important in shaping the complexion of business environments. VOLATILITY OF INVESTMENT SPENDING Variations in investment spending is one of the important factors in business cycles. Investment spending is considered the most volatile component of the aggregate or total demand (it varies much more from year to year than the largest component of the aggregate demand, the consumption spending), and empirical studies by economists have revealed that the volatility of the investment component is an important factor in explaining business cycles in the United States. According to these studies, increases in investment spur a subsequent increase in aggregate demand, leading to economic expansion. Decreases in investment have the opposite effect. Indeed, economists can point to several points in American history in which the importance of investment spending was made quite evident. The Great Depression, for instance, was caused by a collapse in investment spending in the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929. Similarly, prosperity of the late 1950s was attributed to a capital goods boom. There are several reasons for the volatility that can often be seen in investment spending. One generic reason is the pace at which investment accelerates in response to upward trends in sales. This linkage, which is called the acceleration principle by economists, can be briefly explained as follows. Suppose a firm is operating at full capacity. When sales of its goods increase, output will have to be increased by increasing plant capacity through further investment. As a result, changes in sales result in magnified percentage changes in investment expenditures. This accelerates the pace of economic expansion, which generates greater income in the economy, leading to further increases in sales. Thus, once the expansion starts, the pace of investment spending accelerates. In more concrete terms, the response of the investment spending is related to the rate at which sales are increasing. In general, if an increase in sales is expanding, investment spending rises, and...
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