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Three-fourths of business economists expect a recession by 2021, survey finds

Brian Cheung
Reporter

Most of the nation’s leading business economists predict that the U.S. economy will tip into recession by the end of 2021.

new survey from the National Association of Business Economics released Monday predicts that three-fourths of the association’s 281 members expect a recession by 2021. Although only 10% of the NABE expect a recession in 2019, 42% expect a recession in 2020.

A survey of 281 business economists shows 10% of respondents expecting a recession by the end of 2019 and 42% of respondents expecting a recession by the end of 2020. Source: National Association of Business Economics

The study comes amid tightening financial conditions as markets continue to worry about downside risks abroad. As China slows and Europe attempts to fend off its own recession, estimates on global growth are only 3.5% for this year and 3.6% for 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The U.S. economy is also extending its long economic expansion. If the economy continues to expand through July 2019, it will eclipse the 1991-2001 period as the longest economic expansion in American history.

Despite the heightened recession risks, most of the economists say the Federal Reserve is on the right path of monetary policy. Three-fourths of the surveyed economists said the Fed’s policy is “about right,” with a majority of economists approving of the Fed’s current inflation target of 2%.

In its most recent policy setting meeting, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the Fed would be “patient” with its path of monetary policy and signaled a pause on rate hikes. The Fed has pointed to “muted” inflation and risks abroad as reasons for the pause.

Sixty-five percent of respondents expect the Fed to hike one or two times by the end of 2019. The current target range for the federal funds rate is 2.25% to 2.50%.

On the Fed’s balance sheet unwind, NABE says the surveyed economists were “inconclusive” on the impact of the asset rolloff on short- and long-term rates.

Weakened effect of fiscal policy

A majority of the surveyed economists said the bleaker outlook for the U.S. reflects expectations for a weaker effect of fiscal policy in the second half of Donald Trump’s presidency. Two-thirds of the survey respondents projects a 0.5% boost to GDP growth in 2019 as a result of the 2017 tax cuts, which would be offset by a 0.1% to 0.2% drag on GDP due to the longest government shutdown in American history.

The economists also raised a red flag on the growing budget deficit. A majority of panelists said they would be worried if the federal deficit reached 4% of GDP. For the fiscal year 2018, the deficit was 3.85% of GDP.

As a policy matter, the economists were asked to provide their thoughts on the idea of a marginal tax rate of 70% on individuals making more than $10 million. At the forefront of the policy idea: Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who proposes the tax as a way to fund progressive policy initiatives like universal health care and the Green New Deal.

But 42% of the surveyed economists said the 70% marginal tax rate would ultimately have a negative net impact on the U.S.

Forty-two percent of respondents said imposing a marginal tax rate of 70% on income over $10 million would have a negative impact on the U.S. Thirty-three percent said the impact would depend on how the additional tax revenue would be used.

A third of the respondents said the outcome would depend on how the additional tax revenue would be used.

The survey also asked questions about other policy matters grabbing headlines; a large majority of respondents did not view illegal immigration at the southern border as a crisis and only 5% of respondents think there is a 50% or greater chance of Congress passing an infrastructure spending bill in 2019.

Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the banking industry and the intersection of finance and policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.

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