It may be sooner or later, but a recession is coming. Whether it comes before the 2020 election (and how it plays into the results) is anybody’s guess.

That was one of the themes at the Executives’ Club of Chicago’s 40th Annual Economic Outlook luncheon, held in the Hyatt Regency Chicago ballroom on January 22.

Among the speakers were journalist Terry Savage; Grant Thornton's Diane Swonk; Bob Froehlich, the retired vice chairman of Deutsche Asset Management; and DoubleLine Capital CEO Jeffrey Gundlach. The consensus among them was that a recession is coming, but maybe not this year.

Swonk said she is cautiously optimistic about the economy in 2020. "The stock market is not the economy. This is really important because the stock market is less representative of the economy than it has been in the past," she said, alluding to the 1970s.

She also referenced a tweet from President Trump in which he said he was heading to Davos, and bringing “hundreds of billions of dollars” back to the United States.

Hubris, in Swonk’s view, is "a very dangerous thing." Economic growth has been uneven, and Swonk insisted, "We need a more inclusive growth."

Immigration fell 42% last year, and she cited six months of contraction in the United States’ foreign-born workforce. "Millennials now make up the majority of the labor force," Swonk said.

She said inequality is now recognized as a serious systemic problem. "The middle class continues to be hollowed out," she warned. She cited waning CEO confidence and real pain in the economy, despite the thick skin of the indices.

Gundlach said that although he puts the chances of recession at 30% this year, structural problems are likely to surface over the next decade. "We have a debt-based economy which is completely unsustainable." He went on to say that as far as recent recessions, we haven't seen anything yet (re: 2021).

Gundlach said the growth in corporate debt has doubled since 2007, which is astonishing and that 53% of investment-grade bonds are “BBB.”

"The next recession is going to unleash a lot of problems," he said.

He said he liked that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has rejected negative interest rates in the next recession.

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