As the post-Christmas sales got underway, the story was about all these shoppers coming through the door. But that’s not going to satisfy a newsdesk hungry for bad news. Oh no. So the Radio 4 news mixed in the good news – all those people buying stuff! – with some bad: an outfit called the Centre for Economics and Business Research, saying that the British economy will shrink by 3% next year.
Except.. who is this CEBR? I’d never heard of it before, and nobody on the programmes which quoted it (BBC, most newspapers, ITN – does that leave anyone out?) seemed prepared to give us any idea of its bona fides. It had given a juicy bad news forecast; why trouble to ask about it?
OK, so I will, since they won’t.
Here’s the CEBR site. And here’s its “newsroom” – where it puts out its press releases – after a time. (You have to “sign in” to get its latest press releases, it seems.) Except it doesn’t seem to have updated with the gloomy statement quoted by all and sundry.
Still, that’s OK: we can look back at previous things it has said. Are they any good?
Here’s what it thought about the purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September:
Is the Freddie and Fannie bail out good news for the United Kingdom housing market? First, this will mean a stronger United States economy. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Federal government is demonstrating leadership by example. The move will up the pressure on Alastair Darling to be as radical with our mortgage markets. Two of the options being considered by the Treasury are: providing a similar guarantee for mortgage-backed securities; and extending and expanding the current special liquidity scheme to help banks increase their mortgage lending. We await the publication of Crosby’s final report – but the nationalisation of Freddie and Fannie increases the odds of government underwriting of new mortgage-backed security issuance in the United Kingdon. In our view, this represents the best chance of the United Kingdom housing market recovering in 2009.
Yeah, well, some of the mortgage-backed stuff happened, but housing market recovery in 2009? Unlikely, and certainly not triggered by FM/FM’s takeover.
It goes on like this. Basically, I can’t see any clear reason why CEBR would be quoted so highly – except that it had the publication nous to put out its doom-mongering release on Boxing Day.
And newsdesks love a bit of doom-mongering. Who cares whether it’s accurate? Who cares whether the think tank has any sort of track record? It’s bad news, and we love some of that.
But you have to wonder about whether we aren’t sometimes talking ourselves into recession. Hear enough of those sorts of predictions, and of course you’ll be scared of your shadow. No matter that it comes from people whose predictions have been about as good as those that I could make.
We’ll put a marker and come back to the CEBR next year. After all, why not? We could find we praise them, not bury them.