The recession camp is growing as many large brokerage and bank economists toss their hats into the ring. Goldman Sacs yesterday joined Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley in projecting a possible recession in theUS. Goldman's economists predicted the economy will shrink 1% in the next six months and grow 0.8% for the year as the economy did in the last recession of 2001.

Call it a slump, a slowdown, or a recession, whatever you want, but its here. The last shoe has dropped – employment. Today’s government report of hiring slowing faster than forecast and unemployment rising to a two-year high, employment one of the last strengths of the economy is faltering.

As economists grapple with where this economy is going the American consumer continues to surprise and amaze. The latest government figures, released today show that consumer spending rose considerably more than forecast in November. Purchases gained 1.1% in November, well ahead of .7% estimate. That is the highest rate of increase since the 1.2% increase in May 2004. It helps allay fears that the economy is falling so fast it cannot avoid recession.

TheUSeconomy will have to gut it out from here without additional help from the Fed or the government. Today’s inflation report shows that the Federal Reserve had little flexibility to lower beyond the quarter of a percent they announced on Wednesday fearing inflation and a falling dollar. As to government actions; early signs are that credit bailout efforts will fall short of easing tight credit. InWashington, political wrestling has already stalled and likely killed relief from the alternative minimum tax. There appears scant hope that a Democratically controlled House and Senate will continue Bush’s tax cuts. So the combined prospects of higher taxes, tighter credit, already high gasoline, falling house prices, slowing consumer demand, and higher prices on everything else if inflation takes hold, almost surely will be enough to stall theUSeconomy.

The economy is drifting very close to the edge now and what would have taken a gale force wind a few months ago might well be accomplished with little more than a wisp now. You might remember that in last weeks’ Brief we posed the question as to whether the Fed had lowered rates enough to sustain economic expansion. We noted that future reductions might be constrained because of growing threats of inflation as well as a dramatically sinking dollar. But without them, we noted the odds were greater that the economy would falter. The past several weeks’ revelations of worsening banking and credit problems, combined with a host of economic releases showing deterioration have changed the tone of the Fed dramatically.

Since Greenspan made his comment in February of this year that theUScould be in recession by the end of this year investors and economists have largely taken the rosier view; that is until the last few of weeks. Oil flirting with $100, the dollar in freefall, anemic retail sales, housing in the depths, and a sub-prime mess, the extent of which is still unknown, have seemingly aligned forces against this economy. The majority view remains on the favorable side, but comments from the minority have grown louder and bolder.

This Friday marks the 20th anniversary of “Black Monday,” which sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average spiraling down 508 points or 23% in a day. The panic was sparked by investors realizing that Fed Chairman Paul Volker was wringing money out of the economy without apparent regard for its near-term health. His aim was to irradiate the prolonged and excessively high inflation of the time. The market drop was the second largest inUS history, second only to the first trading day after shutdown following the outbreak of WWI on 12/12/1914.

The week’s economic data was positive on balance. Given that the economy is largely consumer-driven investors are keenly interested in the health and intentions of the US consumer. The data on his health is largely positive. Wal-Mart and Costco were upbeat in their projections for the next quarter earlier this week. Today, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales increased 0.6% in September, more than forecast, following a 0.3% gain the prior month.

The sky may not be falling after all. Today the Labor Department reported that employers added 110,000 workers in September and they revised the August data to reflect that 89,000 jobs were added. The data correction is the larger news in that it reverses an earlier report that indicated the first loss in jobs four years. The employment scare raised fears that recession was more likely and probably played a significant role in the Fed’s decision to drop rates last month.