The feared recession in the US economy has already arrived, according to a report from Merrill Lynch.
It said that Friday's employment report, which sent shares tumbling worldwide, confirmed that the US is in the first month of a recession.
Its view is controversial, with banks such as Lehman Brothers and the National Bureau of Economic Research's President, Martin Feldstein, disagreeing.
An official ruling on whether the US is in recession is made by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but this decision may not come for two years. The NBER defines a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months".
It bases its assessment on final figures on employment, personal income, industrial production and sales activity in the manufacturing and retail sectors.
Feldstein, a Harvard University economist, revised his earlier estimates saying that the odds of a recession had now risen to more than 50 percent.``We are now talking about more likely than not,'' Feldstein said in an interview in New Orleans two days ago. `I have been saying about 50 percent. This now pushes it up a bit above that.''
Merrill Lynch said that the figures showing the jobless rate hitting 5% in December were the final piece in that puzzle.
"According to our analysis, this isn't even a forecast any more but is a present day reality," the report said.
Merrill said that the current consensus view on Wall Street that there is a good chance of avoiding a recession is "in denial".
It also objected to the use of euphemistic terms for the state of the economy.
"To say that the backdrop is 'recession like' is akin to an obstetrician telling a woman that she is 'sort of pregnant'," the report said.
A BBC article on the Merrill Lynch report is linked.