Gundlach says it's 'ludicrous' to think US won't enter a recession as coronavirus hits economy

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Jeffrey Gundlach speaking at the 2019 SOHN Conference in New York on May 6th, 2019.

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

DoubleLine Capital CEO Jeffrey Gundlach said Tuesday that there’s a 90% chance the United States will enter a recession before the year is over.

The “Bond King” said that last week his odds stood at 80%, but that as the coronavirus outbreak continues to halt travel and shutter businesses worldwide, he now places the odds at 90%.

“When you decimate the restaurant industry, the travel industry, the hotel industry, the airline industry .. the cruise line industry, obviously you’re going to take a huge divot out of economic activity,” he said Tuesday during a webcast with investors.

Gundlach also took aim at Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who on Sunday said he was confident that the economy would weather the downturn from the coronavirus outbreak without entering a recession.

“Obviously we’re going to have a very substantial negative quarter,” Gundlach said. “I just couldn’t believe … that Secretary Mnuchin actually said he wasn’t sure we’re going to a recession as a result of this, we might actually avoid a recession. That just seems so ludicrous,” he said.

Still, Gundlach added later in the webcast that he was incrementally less negative on the market’s outlook given the magnitude of the federal government’s response.

“I think you’re supposed to be staying liquid, I think you’re supposed to be waiting for opportunities,” he said. “We all know that the stock market is down a lot. We know the junk bond market’s down a lot. … Will the market snap back? Of course it will.”

“Certainly, I would be keeping powder dry. I’ve actually been getting less negative on the stock market since Friday, yesterday [and] today than I had been,” he added. “I had been quite negative and I’m not very highly exposed. But I was underexposed, I was basically in a net short position. But I’m taking some of that off.”

Given the backward-looking nature of economic data some, including former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alan Blinder, are saying that the U.S. has already entered a recession. 

“I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if when we look back at the data, it is decided … that the recession started in March,” Blinder said Wednesday. “It takes months to get the data that would be relevant to a call like that. But it wouldn’t be a bit surprising to me.”

In an effort to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus, which has sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 tumbling into a bear market and thereby ending the record bull run, the White House on Tuesday announced that it is seeking a stimulus plan worth anywhere from $850 billion to more than $1 trillion.

“It’s going to be big, it’s going to be bold,” President Trump said Tuesday morning of the potential stimulus package, without disclosing its size.

DoubleLine had $148 billion in assets under management as of the end of 2019.

– CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Thomas Franck contributed reporting.

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