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Trump right? SocGen bear sees 'imminent' recession

A flurry of economists might have poured cold water on claims of a "very massive recession" in the United States by Donald Trump, but the Republican presidential front-runner might have just found someone to support his pessimistic view.

Albert Edwards, the notoriously bearish analyst at the French bank Societe Generale, released a note on Thursday highlighting that his "failsafe recession indicator" had stopped flashing amber and had turned to red.

"Newly released U.S. whole economy profits data show a gut wrenching slump. Whole economy profits never normally fall this deeply without a recession unfolding. And with the U.S. corporate sector up to its eyes in debt," he said in the note.


Corporate profits in the U.S. are key for Edwards as a driver of the economic cycle. He looks at U.S. whole economy profits before tax and focuses on domestic non-financial companies. He says these are currently leading the business investment cycle and, ultimately, the overall economy into recession.

"Whole economy profits data give a wider and cleaner estimate of the underlying profits environment than the heavily doctored pro-forma quoted company profits data," he said in the note.

Federal Reserve tightening may not be a necessary condition to catalyze a recession, according to Edwards, who believes that the deep profits downturn is sufficient in itself to push the U.S. economy overboard. He adds that the economy will "surely be swept away by a tidal wave of corporate default" and U.S. corporate debt should be avoided, even more so than the "ridiculously overvalued equity market."

On Saturday, business magnate Trump predicted the country is on course for a "very massive recession." In an interview with The Washington Post he warned of the combination of high unemployment and an overvalued stock market.

The following days saw a list of names deride his comments including Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research in New York, and Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo. Mohamed El-Erian, the Allianz chief economic advisor, sees a 30 percent chance of a recession next year, with a slowdown even less likely this year.

El-Erian told CNBC on Monday that even if a recession looks imminent, the president's power to curb it is limited by the other branches of government.

Edwards, meanwhile, believes his "Ice Age" thesis—economic cycles that deteriorate in ever decreasing circles—is drawing ever closer to its final stages. While his bearish thoughts and predictions are widely read by colleagues and rivals at fellow banking organizations, they do not always come true.

In September 2012, he announced the U.S. was in recession and Wall Street would soon react, and warned of an "ultimate" death cross for the S&P 500—where the 50-day moving average falls below the 200-day trend line. Instead the S&P 500 continued to rally, and has gained around 40 percent since Edwards' pronouncement.

In November 2013 and in March 2014 he also released notes that predicted imminent U.S recessions and spoke of declining U.S. profits.

Donald Trump
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Donald Trump

—CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.