Blackstone's Byron Wien: Coronavirus causes 'maximum level of uncertainty' but won't trigger recession

Key Points
  • Blackstone's Byron Wien said Friday the coronavirus outbreak will lower global growth for the year.
  • "We're in a maximum level of uncertainty," Wien said on CNBC's "Squawk Alley."
  • But he stressed that any suggestion that the outbreak will cause recession is "too extreme" at this point.
Blackstone's Byron Wien on global growth
Blackstone's Byron Wien on global growth

Blackstone's Byron Wien told CNBC on Friday the coronavirus threatened to dent global growth and drive down stocks but likely wouldn't cause a recession.

On "Squawk Alley," Wien said there are still a lot of unknowns about how the coronavirus will play out and the uncertainty is causing markets to sink. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down around 500 points midday on Friday.

"Right now, people are very confused about what the outcome of the virus is going to be, what the industrial and market response is going to be," said Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone's private wealth solutions group.

"We're in a maximum level of uncertainty," he added. "Markets never respond well to that."

The outbreak will hurt global growth, Wien said, specifically in China, where it is the most widespread. However, Wien said he still expects growth to be positive for the year.

"Global growth right now is projected to be greater than 3%. If this continues, and maybe even if it only continues for another month, you could knock that down below 3[%]," Wien said.

But he stressed that any suggestion that the outbreak will cause recession is "too extreme" at this point.

Long before Friday's sell-off, Wien predicted several market pullbacks throughout the year, as one of the surprises on his annual "Ten Surprises for 2020" list, which he puts out at the beginning of January.

Wien told CNBC on Friday, the final day of a volatile month, that the pullback was natural and that stocks would still do well for the year if the coronavirus outbreak were to be contained.

"It always seems as if it goes to an extreme," Wien said. "I think the market was overbought. It was due for a correction. A correction is healthy."

Wien has said previously that he thought economic growth in the U.S. would fall short of estimates in 2020, leading the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates.

The longtime strategist said Friday he does not expect a recession, but the "out of the blue" coronavirus does raise some doubts about that prediction.

"That's still my forecast, but I'm getting a little shaky about it — or would get shaky about it if coronavirus extends and spreads more than three months from now," he said.