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Business Economists and CEOs Forecast Slower Growth in 2020

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Slower growth but no recession is the overwhelming sentiment of economists looking ahead to 2020.

The latest outlook from the National Association of Business Economists, based on a panel of 53 forecasts, looks for GDP growth next year, adjusted for inflation, to slow from an estimated 2.3% this year to 1.8% in 2020.

“The consensus forecast calls for a pickup in housing, but slower growth in business investment and consumer spending, along with larger deficits in trade and the federal budget,” said NABE President and KPMG Chief Economist Constance Hunter, in a statement.

Seventy-one percent of panelists see a balance of risk leaning toward the downside, led by concerns about trade policy, down from 81% in the October survey, but trade policy was also noted by 42% to be the greatest upside risk to their forecasts.

More than 80% of the panelists had lowered their baseline forecasts for 2019 and 2020 due to concerns about trade tensions, including the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. Negotiators for both sides are now planning for a delay of additional sanctions that the U.S. is set to impose on Sunday.

Despite the imposition of tariffs on imports from China and elsewhere, the U.S. trade deficit grew slightly, by 1.3%, through the first 10 months of the year. The NABE panelists expect the U.S. trade deficit will widen to $1 trillion in 2020 from $979 billion in 2019 and the budget deficit will reach $1.08 trillion for the fiscal year ending in September 2020.

Only one in five panelists expect U.S. growth will turn negative by mid-2020; about one-third expect the economy will turn down by the second half of 2021.

Given this middling forecast, NABE panelists expect the 10-year Treasury yield, which has been holding steady, will close 2019 at 1.8% and end 2020 near 2%. A plurality, 43%, expect Fed monetary policy will remain unchanged. Forty-one percent, however, foresee either one additional rate cut or rate hike of 25 basis points.

Inflation is expected to rise only slightly, from 1.8% in 2019 to 2% in 2020.

NABE economists forecast consumer spending, as measured by real personal consumption expenditures, to increase 2.4% in 2020, slightly down from 2.6% growth in 2019. They expect payrolls to grow by a median 134,000 jobs per month in 2020, with the strongest growth in the first half of the year, and they see the unemployment rate unchanged from 2019 at 3.7%.

Corporate profits are projected to rise 2.6%, up from just 0.7% in 2019.

The economic outlook from 140 CEOs participating in the Business Roundtable survey of plans for capital spending and hiring and sales expectations over the next six months fell for the seventh straight quarter.

The index is now has a value of 76.7, below its historical average of 82.7.

Trade policy and slower growth in the global economy and U.S. manufacturing sector, which is currently contracting, underpin the weaker outlook.

CEOs surveyed increased their expectations for sales but lowered expectations for hiring and capital investment. But they were more optimistic than NABE economists in the projection for 2020 GDP, forecasting 2.1%.

“CEOs are justified in their caution about the state of the U.S. economy,” said Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable. “Uncertainty surrounding trade policy and slowing global growth are creating headwinds for business.”

— Check out CPA Execs Tighten Forecasts for Profit, Revenue Growth in Q4 on ThinkAdvisor.


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