It has been a tough week of news for the economy and business. US Consumer confidence dropped to the lowest level since the crash of ’87. GE reported disappointing quarterly and projected earnings sending their shares tumbling the most since 1987. Frontier Airlines, out ofDenver, was the fourthUSairline to declare bankruptcy in the past three weeks. Last, but not least, the US Congress has set a dangerous precedent on trade by halting cooperation with the Executive Branch and holding up a pact with Columbia. If the gambit is pushed it may affect numerous other negotiations and slow global commerce at a time when theUSis heavily dependant on exports.

“We are in a recession” according to Warren Buffett. “Across the board I am seeing a significant slowdown,” he said on CNBC television. Fed chair Ben Bernanke in his Senate testimony last week said that “the economic situation has become distinctly less favorable.''

Remember climbing a ladder for the first time and hearing the advice – don’t look down? Seems everybody looked down a couple of months ago and believed the worst. People seem to be frozen like deer in the headlights. In my conversations with friends and clients I hear that their businesses, some related to homebuilding and others completely unrelated, simply fell off the cliff a couple of months ago. While some can be explained by high fuel prices, poor exchange rates, and tight credit policies, the reasons are broader than the economic data. There seemed to be a psychological line that was crossed and people simply put on the brakes.

The economy’s momentum in the fourth quarter of last year came almost entirely from exports as domestic spending evaporated. Gross domestic product rose at a 0.6% annualized rate following a 4.9% gain in the third quarter according to the Commerce Department. The government reported today that consumer spending rose 0.4%. But that increase is mostly due to rising prices. The Federal Reserve's preferred measure of inflation climbed 0.3%, the most in four months.

Search for the bottom in the housing recession continues, leading indicators are falling, the auction market has dried up, Oil breaks $100, Gold is reaching new highs, and the job market is cooling. Unfortunately there is little evidence to support the thesis that we will miss a recession other than the continued strong momentum in Asia and theMiddle Eastmay pull us out of this dive with the help of lower rates and government stimuli.

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.