A leading economist doesn't expect Hurricane Irene to push the country into recession, although he notes that the fragile economy can't handle many big surprises.
"Even if it causes $10 billion in insured damages, that's a shock we can live with," Wells Fargo Securities senior economist Mark Vitner said in a phone interview today. "If it causes $50 billion and shuts down the East Coast and sends the cost of oil soaring, that may be too much of a shock."
Vitner said there's a one in three chance of the economy slipping back into recession during the next year.
Since economic growth has slowed to less than 2 percent, "we just don't have that much margin for error," Vitner said. "Any unforeseen shock, that might be enough to push us into recession.
"Absent that, we see the economy continuing to grow," he added.