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Deloitte US CEO: It's dangerous to think the risk of a recession is behind us

Emily McCormick

A phase one U.S.-China trade deal, improving global growth signals, and fading Brexit uncertainties have lulled many investors into believing the biggest economic and market risks have been taken fully off the table, according to Deloitte U.S. CEO Joe Ucuzoglu.

Even with a preliminary trade deal signed with China, “those underlying tensions haven’t been put to rest for good,” Ucuzoglu told Yahoo Finance’s Andy Serwer and Alexis Christoforous at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “There are still geopolitical issues out there, slowing in some major economies across the globe. Cyber (security risk) hasn’t gone away.”

“(It’s) impossible to predict which and when any of those come to fruition,” he added. “But they’re still out there, and I think it’s dangerous to suggest that somehow the risk of a recession is behind us.”

Most of Wall Street, however, sees only clear skies ahead. Heading into 2020, a number of indicators have underscored rising investor confidence as the biggest geopolitical concerns of 2019 appeared to fade and spur a pick-up in growth in emerging and developed markets.

A UBS Investor Sentiment report released Friday found 60% of high net worth investors surveyed from last December through early January were optimistic about the global economy, up from 53% three months earlier. Ninety-four percent of those surveyed expected to see positive returns this year, and 44% expected their investments to deliver double-digit gains.

Yellow traffic light
Yellow traffic light

Separately, Bank of America’s January global fund managers’ survey found 36% of those polled felt global growth would improve over the next year, representing the highest proportion since February 2018.

“The economy is in pretty good shape,” Ucuzoglu agreed. “And I don’t think the optimism is unwarranted. I think what’s unwarranted is the certainty, the notion that somehow all the risks are behind us.”

“This is still a pretty uncertain world. There are risks out there, it's impossible to predict which one and when it will manifest itself, and it's kind of a fool's game to try to predict exactly when the economic cycle turns,” he added. “But the economy right now is in really good shape and there are a lot of reasons to be relatively optimistic if you're looking for a point estimate in terms of how the next year plays out.”

The start-of-the-year optimism represents a seismic shift from the end of 2018 into the start of 2019, when talk of a near-term recession amid an equity market sell-off and escalating trade tensions outweighed any observable signs of resilience in the U.S. economy. That in itself, Ucuzoglu said, is only further proof of the mercuriality of investor sentiment.

“The pendulum always seems to swing too far in both directions,” he said.

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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