Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Thursday, 27 August 2009 13:29 UK

The recession is a pretty picture

bath tub
Out of the bath tub, into the saxophone

Next time you stretch out in the bath, spare a thought for the global economy.

A bathtub is one of the more unusual symbols used to describe a recession. It was first coined by Sir Martin Sorrell, the boss of ad firm WPP.

A saxophone, an italic letter 'L' and an inverted square root are other metaphors which have cropped up.

More traditional shapes are the letters U, V, and W, which mirror the ways in which an economy can fall into, and then emerge from, a recession.

The U and the V

letters U and V

During U and V-shaped recessions, the economy both falls and then recovers relatively quickly.

The main difference is how long it lies at the bottom before it starts to pick up - with a U there is a longer flat period than with a V.

The W

letter W

A W-shaped recession is one in which the economy dips twice - the second time after a period of recovery.

The US recession of the 1980s is a popular example. The economy fell in 1980, grew the early months of 1981 and then dipped again in the second half of the same year.

The L

the letter L

A straight forward L shape means that after the economy falls it remains flat for a long time, as happened in Japan in the 1990s.

Sir Martin recently described the current downturn as resembling as an italic capital letter L.

This takes the form of a sharp downturn, a long flat period at the bottom and then a tiny lift at the end.

The bathtub

bath tub

He had previously described the downturn in the wake of the dot.com boom as "bathtub-shaped".

"We are now at the bottom of the bath," Sir Martin said in 2001. "The question is how long is the bottom, and I think it's longer than people think it will be."

The saxophone

man playing saxophone

Doug McWilliams, Chief Executive of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, has a more melodic interpretation of current events - comparing it to a saxophone.

"The line describing the progress of gross domestic product goes up, then sharply down, then comes back up sharply initially before levelling off, describing the rough profile of a saxophone," he wrote.

For billionaire George Soros, the shape takes a less romantic form. He sees it as an inverted square root.

"You hit bottom and you automatically rebound some, but then you don't come out of it in a V-shape recovery or anything like that," he said. "You settle down - step down."



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