Working Paper No. 659
By Jonathan Bridges, Chris Jackson and Daisy McGregor
We investigate the role of private sector credit in shaping the severity of recessions. Using a sample of 130 downturns in 26 advanced economies since the 1970s, we assess whether the growth or level of credit is the better predictor of the severity of a recession. In addition to GDP we examine other metrics of severity, including unemployment and labour productivity. We find that a period of rapid credit growth in the immediate run-up to a recession predicts a deeper and longer downturn than when credit growth has been subdued, whether associated with a systemic banking crisis or not and whether that credit growth reflects borrowing by households or businesses. Credit growth is a more statistically and economically significant predictor of a recession’s severity than the level of indebtedness, though there is some evidence that the effect of a credit boom is greater when leverage is high. A build-up in credit predicts worse recessions in terms of lower GDP per capita, higher unemployment and lost labour productivity.