The U.S. economy will run strong for two more quarters before peaking this summer and sliding into a mild recession early next year, predicted economist Alan Beaulieu, a specialist in long-term economic cycles.
“You should have a good year, at least the first half. The economy is about to shift into a slower rate of growth,” Beaulieu, president of ITR Economics, told the Association for Corporate Growth Denver at a luncheon Wednesday.
The coming recession will be “very, very mild” and more technical in nature, with two quarters of declining gross domestic product. The stock market should correct, not crash, before the official numbers show a downturn, catching some investors off guard.
“It is an opportunity rather than an event to be feared,” Beaulieu said. An exception to that stance would be if a nuclear exchange occurs with North Korea, which he called a wild card.
Economic growth has accelerated, and the danger is that many will use “straight-line” thinking and assume it to keep going.
Watch for businesses to start spending money in extravagant ways, ranging from buying corporate jets to fancy lobby remodels and senseless giveaways like coffee mugs with company logos on them, he warned.
Back in 2014, Beaulieu told his Denver audience to get aggressive for the next four years. In 2015, he said U.S. growth would slow but the country would skirt a recession despite a big drop in oil prices, slower industrial production and choppy stock markets.
In 2016, he urged executives to focus on hiring good workers ahead of labor shortages and said concerns about a collapse in China were overblown. He predicted oil prices had bottomed and would recover to between $50 and $55 a barrel a year later, which they did.
Last year, he said the U.S. and global economies were politically agnostic and would continue to march forward despite concerns about the new presidential administration.
Beaulieu on Wednesday expressed skepticism that tax cuts would push the economy forward as backers claim. Although he supports lower tax rates on a personal level, “the economist in me knows this is a bogus plan.”
To the degree that tax cuts and other initiatives goose the economy, they will do so in a market where qualified workers are hard to find.
There are more than 5 million unfilled job openings, including 411,000 in manufacturing, he said.
“What we need to create in this country is labor, not jobs,” said Beaulieu.
The other problem is that tax cuts risk adding to the national debt at the same time as millions more Baby Boomers start drawing on government support. Congress has failed to address that fundamental shortfall, Beaulieu said.
Colorado should hold up better than most states during the coming slowdown. But Beaulieu said the metro Denver housing market has overshot the mark and price gains will level off. Higher living costs will also complicate the search for workers.
“You will have to pay people more to move here, because pot is not everything,” he said.
After a brief slowdown next year, Beaulieu forecasts a roaring economy through the 2020s. But eventually, an aging population, growing government expenditures, unsupportable debt burdens and higher interest rates will send economies crashing, he said.
Beaulieu has consistently called for a downturn around 2030 that will rival the Great Depression a century prior, with unemployment rates running up to 30 percent and wage cuts of 25 percent.
When asked what will be different this time around, he said people will have technology.
“The apps will tell you were the food is being handed out,” he said.
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