NEW YORK -- U.S. businesses are sufficiently streamlined to cope with a recession, according to a report by the Conference Board.
But the business research group's annual human resources outlook panel also predicted that the U.S. economy will dodge a recession in 1988.
The panel, made up of 11 labor market analysts, was assembled by the board in early November to assess the fitness of U.S. companies and their workers in the wake of the stock market collapse Oct. 19.
It concluded that the shock of the market slide probably had led many corporations to take steps to cushion the impact of a potential recession.
"The market decline may cause actions that will avoid a downturn of any severity," said Benton W. Dial, a panel member and executive vice president of human resources at San Francisco-based Pacific Telesis Group.
Dial called it "an early warning."
Audrey Freedman, executive director of the board's human resources program and chairman of the panel, said, "panelists' optimism is based on a sense that most businesses have already discounted for the recession-to-come; or, they have become so efficient that severe further cost-cutting can be avoided -- even if the economy fails to grow."
"Companies are approaching the next recession with considerably more survival skills than in past business cycles," she said.
The group noted that current "very modest wage pressures" will aid companies if a recession occurs.
It projected increases in average hourly earnings of only about 2.8 percent between January and December 1988. Analysts also predicted first year wage and benefit increases in major union contracts will be held to 2.5 percent.
"Significantly, unit labor costs in manufacturing are expected to show no increase at all in 1988," the group concluded.
It predicted "relatively stable," business conditions, inflation and unemployment throughout 1988, with a first-quarter rate of unemployment averaging about 6 percent and a final quarter unemployment rate of about 6.3 percent.