University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith uses a TV plot device to prepare readers of his latest U.S. Forecast for an uncomfortable subject: A looming recession.

Television sitcom writers of the 1980s and ‘90s frequently marketed “very special episodes” when their characters dealt with storylines involving child abuse or other thorny issues. When it comes to the economy, a recession is one of the toughest plotlines there is.

“Cue the melancholy music because in this very special episode of The U.S. Forecast, we have learned that a recession will be coming to the U.S. economy almost certainly in the next four years,” writes Snaith, director of The Institute for Economic Competitiveness in UCF’s College of Business Administration. “Given how events are unfolding so far in 2016, it is increasingly likely the recession will occur in the next two years.”

The greatest threat may come from the souring global economic environment, Snaith writes in his 2016 first-quarter forecast. Stock markets in the U.S., Germany, France, Japan and China are down, year to date.

China in particular seems poised for crisis, as the country uses excessive debt to fuel its economy even as its manufacturing sector continues to contract. It’s reminiscent of the beginnings of the U.S. financial crisis in 2008 and the 2010 crisis in Greece, Snaith writes.

The strength of the U.S. dollar against our major trading partners is also weighing on exports. The stronger dollar boosts imports and reduces exports by making our goods and services more expensive to foreigners and imported goods and services cheaper to U.S. consumers. This results in a worsening of the trade deficit.

“Even if we manage to avoid recession, there is no forecast for the nature of this recovery to change.  Growth is expected to remain sub-par in our baseline forecast through 2019,” Snaith writes.

Other highlights:

  • Consumers are the primary source of GDP growth in the forecast. Growth in real consumer spending from 2016 through 2019 will average a mere 2.7 percent. If consumer confidence continues to erode and consumers begin to pull back, there won’t be much to separate us from a recession.
  • Unemployment rates are expected to stabilize around 4.9 percent through 2017. Slower job growth will be just enough to keep up with labor force growth until 2018, when unemployment begins to climb.
  • The housing market continues to gradually recover. The housing market will slowly improve through 2018, when rising rates take their toll and housing starts level off. Housing starts will rise from around 1.2 million in 2016 to 1.45 million in 2019.
  • Snaith is a national expert in economics, forecasting, market sizing and economic analysis who authors quarterly reports about the state of the economy. Bloomberg News has named Snaith as one of the country’s most accurate forecasters for his predictions about the Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rate, the Federal Funds rate.

    Snaith also is a member of multiple national forecasting panels, including The Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey,’s survey of leading economists, the Associated Press Economy Survey, the National Association of Business Economics Quarterly Outlook Survey Panel, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s Survey of Professional Forecasters, the Livingston Survey, Bloomberg U.S. Economic Indicator Survey, Reuters U.S. Economy Survey, and USA Today Economic Survey Panel.

    The Institute for Economic Competitiveness strives to provide complete, accurate and timely national, state and regional forecasts and economic analyses. Through these analyses, the institute provides valuable resources to the public and private sectors for informed decision-making.