Taking Stock – National and Global Forecasts
The last five months, since America and the world entered into a lock down to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, have been completely unique and devastating. It is time to look back at the forecasts I made during 2020 to see not just what was correct, but to alter and update forecasts as necessary. This column will also begin to look ahead to some of what will occur for the rest of this year and in 2021 –2022.
(Readers, please understand that my responsibility is to be correct when looking into the future. I do not, in any way, like the fact that the economic forecasts below are truly some of the worst any of us have ever experienced.)
January 2020 – “There will be a Democratic landslide in November.” This was made before COVID-19, the murder of George Lloyd, and the manifestation of a lack in national leadership in the U.S. concerning the pandemic. So, an even stronger forecast now.
March 2020 – “Due to COVID-19, the Dow will drop to under 20,000 and the global GDP will shrink 2% to 3% in 2020.” The Dow did drop below 20,000 before bouncing back up again. I think it may well go down again once the depth of the depression and the extent of America’s failure to stem the first wave of the virus becomes apparent. (Note to active investors: when the major indices go down by 3% to 5%, liquidate short-term positions as a downturn from current levels could go into double digits). UPDATE: 2% to 3% was before it was clear that the Federal government had no plan. My new estimate is GDP down 10% in 2020 over 2019.
April 2020 – “We have entered the first depression of the 21st century.”
No question about it. 2nd quarter GDP was down 33% from last year. I had forecast 30% to 40%. This collapse erased all the economic growth and employment gains from the last five years, so back to 2015 levels. The last time there was a decline of this magnitude was during the Great Depression. Same with the 20% to 30% total unemployment numbers, once all categories are factored in. The unemployment rate was never more than 10.6% in the Great Recession. It will continue to deepen in 2020, stay flat through 2021, and only begin to recover in 2022 and 2023 when the collapsed structures give way to the new.
April 2020 – “Any inability to successfully contain the virus either first wave or second wave, or opening up state economies too soon, will only result in deeper economic damage.” Clearly this is true based on all current data.
May 2020 – “Global and US GDP will decline by double digits, 2020 over 2019. Globally down close to $10 Trillion.” No change here.
Updated forecast: US GDP 2020 versus 2019 will be down 10% or some $2 trillion. Globally the same $10 trillion forecast, resulting in the global GDP being below $80 trillion.
June 2020 – “The U.S. economy will have sectors that come back by 2021 and others that will take years to come back, if then.” Given the current COVID-19 spikes all across the U.S., I am not sure what will come back. An important distinction must be made between the politically oriented hype of how much has “bounced back” from April/May. The only true comps are the month in 2020 compared with the same month in 2019. The annual GDP shrinkage is based upon that. Readers beware of politicians saying the economy is “bouncing back”. Yes from March, April and May when we were shut down. Of course. Ask anyone saying that how the 2020 quarters and 2020 months compare to the same in 2019.
COVID-19 deaths are now around 165,000. They will be around 250,000 on November 3 and more than 350,000 on January 20, 2021.
The obvious tragedy here is that the number of cases and deaths are accelerating. Back in March and April, the federal government could have taken drastic steps to mobilize, and at the same time bring Americans together to fight a common enemy… something we have always done well. We all self-quarantined assuming our governmental leaders would do what they were supposed to do. They didn’t. This means that any number of dead Americans were unnecessary. Blood on the hands of the White House and many state capitols.
There will be gubernatorial recall efforts in Arizona, Florida and Texas. Highly likely given the above forecast.
Education. The rest of August and all of September will have widespread media coverage of the inability of colleges and schools to reopen.
It is hard to think of a tougher job right now than that of being a college president or a school superintendent. The rest of August and all of September will see widespread media coverage of the inability of colleges and schools to reopen. That will be followed by rapid rises in COVID-19 cases at all levels and will result in shutdowns… and then lawsuits concerning the reopenings. Politicians demanding that schools reopen are not comprehending the potential for children to die and/or infect families and teachers. This is a social, economic and political crisis that is about to unfold across the country.
Office and commercial real estate markets will crash now through 2021 and possibly longer. Manufacturing real estate might well be strong.
The office collapse is already starting. Numerous companies have announced that significant percentages of employees will continue to work from home, permanently. In the several conversations I have had with companies with largely white-collar work forces, I have not run across any with more than 10% of employees wanting to come back to the office. This will lead to lease negotiations, cancellations, and non-renewals. The demand for office space has collapsed and this market will have far more supply than demand. Look for dark office buildings in urban centers. There will be no leveling off until the majority of Americans have been vaccinated. However, the new habits, productivity and huge cost savings of working from home will have changed that paradigm forever.
Commercial and retail real estate will also suffer. Along with other forecasters, I have stated that more than 25% to 30% of all restaurants, bars and coffee shops open in January of this year will close in the U.S. In addition, there will be almost the same percentages of non-restaurant retail stores closing. This means that it will be hard to walk down any Main Street or visit any mall in the U.S. and not see plenty of vacant storefronts. A real tragedy for small businesses, but large chains will close and declare bankruptcy as well.
Industrial real estate will be strong. This because of the embarrassing realization by the U.S. that so much of our critical manufacturing products – such as PPE for medical workers – is manufactured overseas, mostly in China. Now that we are in an escalating economic war with China, it is necessary to bring manufacturing back home.
Residential real estate will be a mixed bag. By the end of summer, all the pent-up demand from lock-down will have run its course and nationally this market will be flat. Low interest rates aside, uncertainty, unemployment and exhausted savings will dampen the market. Defaults on mortgages and evictions of renters will increase. Right now, there is a flight from urban areas due to perceptions of greater probability of infection in high density areas. I don’t think this will last past 2021, but I don’t really know. It could be the beginning of a new longer-term recalibration in where Americans live.
I want to thank all you readers who have purchased and read my latest book, “The 2020s: The Most Disruptive Decade in History”. It was written to help people, businesses and governments navigate the next ten years. It is the first in a series of short, high-level books about the 2020s. Clearly the decade so far has been highly disruptive. Get your copy today.