In the star-studded 1970’s comedy war film Kelly’s Heroes, Donald Southerland’s character ‘Oddball’ constantly admonished the dreary nature of his tank driver, Moriarty, played by Gavin MacLeod with the phrase “always with the negative waves Moriarty.”  The steady pounding of dour economic reports continues with little positive relief in sight. The juggernaut US and global economies seem to have changed course almost overnight. The change in mood is due both to qualitative and quantitative forces.

Last week we posed the question as to whether recession had already begun. Today 62 economists polled by Bloomberg News make it an even bet that job losses and housing contraction will stall the longest-ever expansion in consumer spending. They predict that the economy will grow at .5% in the first quarter implying the slowest growth since the 2001 recession. A growing number of economists, bankers, and brokers are saying that recession may already be upon us.

The title of last week’s Brief “It’s Not That Bad” rubbed a few of our readers the wrong way. It was insensitive at best to those in the real estate industry and I apologize.US mortgage foreclosures are set to top 1 million this year and home prices are falling at the fastest pace since the Great Depression. In the real estate industry it is that bad. While there is still mixed thought on whether it will drag the economy into recession, more industry leaders and economists are calling for dramatic government action. They say we need significant fiscal (tax cuts and relaxed mortgage rules) and monetary stimulation (further Fed rate reductions).

There comes a point in market downturns when investors throw in the towel and begin dumping stocks at any price, just to get out and end the pain. These events typically come after longer and deeper routs, but Tuesday’s rout felt a lot like capitulation. It had many of the characteristics of a turning point. One thing is certain in equity investing and that is nothing is certain. Historical studies of market corrections are helpful to understand their general framework, but there is no magical formula to trigger getting out or in.

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.