More US business economists see 'downside' economic risks

The US Federal Reserve.
The US Federal Reserve. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Amid uncertainty over President Donald Trump's growth agenda, US economists increasingly are worried about risks to the economy, though they see little chance of a recession near term, according to a survey released Monday (Sept 25).

The National Association for Business Economists quarterly survey showed little change in the forecasts compared with June in key areas such as economic growth, which was projected at 2.2 per cent in 2017 and 2.4 per cent in 2018.

But the September survey of about 50 economists showed 48 per cent believe the risks to the economy are weighted to the downside, indicating chances for an economic slowdown, while 43 per cent see the risks tilted to the upside, meaning growth could outpace forecasts.

That is a shift from June, when upside risks outweighed downside risks by 60 to 36 per cent.

Ken Simonson, a survey analyst for NABE and the chief economist of the Associated General Contractors of America, cited a number of factors behind the somewhat more pessimistic outlook.

"There probably is more concern about North Korea and perhaps the Federal Reserve seems closer to making a move towards tightening," he told AFP.

However, "Downside doesn't translate into expectation of recession, but slower growth."

Mr Simonson also said decreased optimism about the success of Trump's agenda in Washington likely contributed to the shift.

The survey showed 73 per cent of respondents believe individual tax cuts will be enacted by the end of 2018, down from 83 per cent in the June survey. And 61 per cent now see an infrastructure plan enacted, down from 83 per cent previously.

And those figures are much higher than those in NABE's semi-annual survey of a larger group of economists released last month, which also showed rising concerns.

Mr Simonson said he was highly skeptical Washington will produce a major tax overhaul by the end of 2018 given the complexity of the issue and the sharp political polarization in Congress.

Still, nearly three-quarters of panelists viewed the odds of a 2018 recession as 25 per cent or lower, with the remaining group seeing the chance as 26 to 50 per cent probability. The survey was conducted while Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, but before Hurricane Irma hit Florida. The report made no attempt to assess the storms.