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Recession forecasting using Bayesian classification

Troy Davig and Aaron Smalter Hall

International Journal of Forecasting, 2019, vol. 35, issue 3, 848-867

Abstract: We demonstrate the use of a Naïve Bayes model as a recession forecasting tool. The approach is closely connected with Markov-switching models and logistic regression, but also has important differences. In contrast to Markov-switching models, our Naïve Bayes model treats National Bureau of Economic Research business cycle turning points as data, rather than as hidden states to be inferred by the model. Although Naïve Bayes and logistic regression are asymptotically equivalent under certain distributional assumptions, the assumptions do not hold for business cycle data. As a result, Naïve Bayes has a larger asymptotic error rate, but converges to the error rate more quickly than logistic regression, resulting in more accurate recession forecasts with limited data. We show that Naïve Bayes outperforms competing models and the Survey of Professional Forecasters consistently for real-time recession forecasting up to 12 months in advance. These results hold under standard error measures, and also under a novel measure that varies the penalty on false signals, depending on when they occur within a cycle; for example, a false signal in the middle of an expansion is penalized more heavily than one that occurs close to a turning point.

Date: 2019
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