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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: May 2016

1.3 - The Shaded (Recession) Chart: RecessionChart.xls and EconChart.xla

from 1 - Charting in Excel


(i). A strongly good graph shows us everything we need to know just by looking at it.

(ii). A weakly good graph shows us everything we need to know just by looking at it, once we know how to look.

– Howard Wainer

Quick Summary

To access RecessionChart.xls, visit:

RecessionChart.xls uses real crude oil price data to demonstrate how to use the Econ Chart Enhancer add-in to create a time series with shaded bars based on U.S. recessions. It also uses World Top Incomes data to replicate a chart on U.S. income inequality with shaded bars when the top 10% earn 45% or more of total income. Proficiency with basic charting in Excel is required.

The Econ Chart Enhancer add-in, filename EconChart.xla, available at, enables enhancements to an existing chart, such as natural log scale (not merely Excel's base 10 log scale) and easily adding shaded bars for recession (or other) time periods. Download the add-in from the website and use the Add-Ins Manager to install it.


  1. • shows how to install an add-in Excel via the Add-Ins Manager

  2. • charts real crude oil price over time

  3. • use the Econ Chart add-in to add recession bars to real crude oil price chart

  4. • more practice with the Econ Chart add-in

  5. • use the Econ Chart add-in to replicate a chart on income inequality


Plotting a time series with shaded bars for recessionary periods has become a staple in financial literature. It is an effective way to show a second variable, such as the performance of the economy, while displaying more detail about a primary variable of interest. Unfortunately, it is not easy to create such a chart. Excel, however, can be tricked into doing it, and the complicated steps have been packaged into the Econ Chart add-in so the user can quickly add shaded areas to any chart.

Common Problems for Students

Installing the add-in requires use of the Add-Ins Manager. Students sometimes ignore all instructions and attempt simply to open the add-in file as if it were a conventional Excel workbook.

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The epigraph is from Wainer, H., “Graphical Visions from William Playfair to John Tukey,” Statistical Science 5, no. 3 (1990): 341,
The World Top Incomes database at is freely available.
For more on inequality, see Piketty, T., Capital in the Twenty-First Century, trans. Goldhammer, A. (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014).
Hamilton, J. 2011. “Historical Oil Shocks.” NBER Working Paper 16790.