Times Square in New York city, New York, US. Picture: ISTOCK
Times Square in New York city, New York, US. Picture: ISTOCK

Two-thirds of business economists in the US expect a recession to begin by the end of 2020, while many respondents say trade policy is the greatest risk to the expansion, according to a new survey.

About 10% see the next contraction starting in 2019, 56% say 2020 and 33% said 2021 or later, according to the August 28-September 17 poll of 51 forecasters issued by the National Association for Business Economics on Monday.

Forty-one percent said the biggest downside risk was trade policy, followed by 18% citing higher interest rates and 18% again saying it would be a substantial stock-market decline or volatility.

“Trade issues are clearly influencing panelists’ views,” David Altig, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta research director and the association's survey chair, said in a statement with the report.

The expansion that in May became the second-longest on record still looks resilient, with no major warning signs flashing and Fed officials upgrading their growth outlook for this year and next.

Should it endure, the US expansion would in mid-2019 become the nation’s longest ever, based on National Bureau of Economic Research figures that go back to the 1850s.

Trade fears aside, economists were slightly more optimistic about the economy this year. The median forecast for inflation-adjusted gross domestic product growth rose to 2.9% from a 2.8% pace projected in the June survey. The 2019 estimate remained at 2.7%.

On the brighter side, 33% of respondents said the biggest potential driver of a stronger economic performance is corporate tax reform, 27% cited stronger wage gains and 10% said stronger global growth.

Business forecasters were more pessimistic than optimistic on their assessment of potential risks to expansion: 51% said GDP growth threats are weighted to the downside, while 20% said they are tilted to the upside and the rest said they are balanced.

Meantime, Fed policymakers said in their statement last week that “risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced”, while raising their 2018 growth estimate to 3.1% from 2.8% in prior forecasts, and 2019 to 2.5% from 2.4%.

They also boosted the main interest rate by a quarter-point to a target range of 2% to 2.25%, this year’s third hike.

Respondents in the National Association for Business Economics survey indicated they expect the Fed to raise interest rates once more this year and three times in 2019, consistent with projections from central bankers.

The poll’s median estimate for the target range midpoint at year-end rose to 2.375%, equivalent to one more 25-basis-point hike this year, from 2.21% seen in the earlier survey.

Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at Bloomberg Economics in New York, was among those who conducted the analysis of survey responses.