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Business cycles are intervals of expansion followed by recession in economic activity. A recession is sometimes technically defined as 2 quarters of negative GDP growth, but definitions vary; for example, in the United States, a recession is defined as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales."[1] The changes in economic activity that characterize business cycles have implications for the welfare of the broad population as well as for private institutions. Typically business cycles are measured by examining trends in a broad economic indicator such as Real Gross Domestic Production.

Business cycle fluctuations are usually characterized by general upswings and downturns in a span of macroeconomic variables. The individual episodes of expansion/recession occur with changing duration and intensity over time. Typically their periodicity has a wide range from around 2 to 10 years. The technical term "stochastic cycle" is often used in statistics to describe this kind of process. Such flexible knowledge about the frequency of business cycles can actually be included in their mathematical study, using a Bayesian statistical paradigm.[2]

There are numerous sources of business cycle movements such as rapid and significant changes in the price of oil or variation in consumer sentiment that affects overall spending in the macroeconomy and thus investment and firms' profits. Usually such sources are unpredictable in advance and can be viewed as random "shocks" to the cyclical pattern, as happened during the 2007–2008 financial crises or the COVID-19 pandemic. In past decades economists and statisticians have learned a great deal about business cycle fluctuations by researching the topic from various perspectives. Examples of methods that learn about business cycles from data include the Christiano–Fitzgerald, Hodrick–Prescott, and singular spectrum filters.[3][4][5][6]

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