Nouriel Roubini

Roubini: U.S. economy will disappoint in 2014

January 17, 2014: 11:19 AM ET

Nouriel Roubini, the economist famous for predicting the financial crisis, says it is unlikely wages will pick up in 2014.

Nouriel Roubini

Nouriel Roubini

FORTUNE -- Dr. Doom is back, sort of.

Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who is famous for having predicted the housing bust and financial crisis, said on Friday that 2014 will be another disappointing year for the U.S. economy. Roubini is actually a bit more optimistic about the U.S. than he has been in previous years. But as the outlook has improved, and the stagnation in Washington has lessened a bit, other economists have upped their economic prognoses.

As a result, Roubini once again thinks the consensus has gotten ahead of itself.

Instead, the NYU economist says growth will pick up, but not enough to produce raises for average American workers. That will limit Americans' ability to shop and pay down debt, two things the economy needs for sustained growth. At the same time, corporate earnings are slowing. And while stocks aren't in a bubble, Roubini says they now look expensive. What's more, he says the U.S. may not get as much of a boost from its growing energy supply in 2014 as many think.

"The question is whether we have gotten to sustainable growth that is not based on bubbles," says Roubini. "Not yet."

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Roubini made his comments at a breakfast event hosted on Friday by Time Inc. The conversation, which also included the Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer, was moderated by Time's Rana Foroohar (who had her own take on the discussion).

Bremmer agreed that economists have gotten ahead of themselves. But he says the main risks in 2014 will be political, not economic. His biggest concern is that the Obama Administration's foreign policy agenda appears to be less ambitious in the president's second term. And he says the revelations from Edward Snowden have hurt the U.S. overseas. "Other countries don't love us being the world's cop," says Bremmer. "But they really don't like us being the world's private eye."

Bremmer thinks the fallout will lead to fewer opportunities for U.S. companies abroad. On top of that, Bremmer noted that many emerging market countries wild hold elections this year, including Brazil. He says that could lead to more political instability than usual.

Roubini and Bremmer differed on China. Bremmer believes China will likely rein in its financial sector. "Will there be banks that go bankrupt? Yes," says Bremmer. "The Chinese are at the point where they are ready to pick winners and losers. That will cause instability."

Roubini, on the other hand, thinks that China, worried about growth, is likely to put off economic reform for another few years. "We won't see a hard landing this year," says Roubini. "But 50% of China's economic growth comes from the government. That's not sustainable."

Problems in China may offer an upside to the U.S. Bremmer says Chinese leaders are once again looking to the U.S. for growth. He thinks that will lead to more Chinese investment in the States.

On energy, Roubini argues that a rising supply of oil in the U.S. and elsewhere will not bring down prices much. A number of Middle Eastern countries are still dependent on oil revenues. Lower revenues could lead to instability in the region, and that typically leads to oil price spikes.

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Roubini also maintains that the U.S. is underinvesting in infrastructure and education, arguing that the average blue collar American worker in the next few years will be left behind. As a result, inequality is only likely to get worse.

But the biggest problem, Roubini thinks, could be the Federal Reserve. Roubini says the Fed is caught in a position where it needs to do more to help the economy, but at the same time, it's beginning to create new bubbles. He referred to what he sees now as "frothiness," pointing in particular to housing, junk bonds, and, potentially, bitcoins. But in two or three years time, Roubini says we could have a problem that leads to another financial crisis.

"Capital will do well, and skilled labor will do well," says Roubini. "Blue collar workers, not as much."

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