Federal Reserve rate cuts and the passage of a stimulus package could provide insurance against a recession, particularly if falling house prices spark a major pullback in consumer spending, according to the American Bankers Association's economic advisory committee. "We may be looking at an unprecedented drop in home prices," said Peter Hooper, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. The consensus of the nine economists on the advisory committee is that there will be a "double-digit decline" in house prices as measured by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller housing price index, and prices will not stop falling until 2009. The consensus says there is a 45% chance of a recession this year. They expect that unemployment will rise to 5.3% and the Federal Reserve will cut the target federal funds rate by 100 basis points to 3.25% by midyear. All nine economists say they expect the performance of mortgage and other consumer loans to deteriorate further over the next six months.

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