The Band sings in “The Shape I’m In”:
“Out of nine lives, I spent seven
Now, how in the world do you get to Heaven?
Oh, you don’t know the shape I’m in”.
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
Everyone knows that the coronavirus pandemic and political (medical) responses to it have wreaked widespread and deep economic destruction around the globe. The coronavirus, however, was not the only bearish phenomenon preceding and influencing the disastrous economic situation. The ultimate extent of the damage and the timing and extent of the international and American recovery remain conjectural.
America and its consumers obviously are not the only economic engines for the international economy. However, given substantial global economic interconnections, American economic conditions, trends, and policies significantly influence those elsewhere. US consumer spending represents about 68.0 percent of American GDP, a very sizable share (Federal Reserve Board; Z.1, “Financial Accounts of the United States”, Table F.2; 3/12/20). Consequently, regarding the prospects for United States economic growth, and thus output in other realms, much depends on the situation and attitudes of the American consumer.
American consumer spending and other “Main Street” variables intertwine with those around the globe, as well as with “business” (both big and small) and other economic, political, and social phenomena. For example, Federal Reserve and other central bank actions, government spending levels and trends, United States (and other) stock marketplace levels, American government and other interest rates, the dollar and other currencies, commodities, real estate, and assorted other economic, political, and social variables influence American consumer spending in a variety of fashions. These relationships and phenomena encouraging them can and do change, sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly. Convergence and divergence (lead/lag) patterns between economic indicators as well as marketplaces likewise can shift or transform.
Wall Street (and its financial media friends), politicians, and Main Street pray that the monumental monetary interventions by central banks such as the Federal Reserve and its allies (massive money printing and so forth) and dramatic fiscal deficit spending boosts not only will rescue the international economy from its current monumental troubles (reduce the magnitude of a recession), but also will restore acceptable economic growth relatively quickly, perhaps even before the end of the third quarter of 2020. Prior success in dealing with the dreadful worldwide economic disaster of 2007-09 encourages widespread faith that these (and perhaps further) efforts and a warlike “whatever it takes” monetary and governmental policy attitude ultimately will succeed.
Many economic high priests such as the International Monetary Fund predict a relatively strong and quick global recovery. In its World Economic Outlook (Table 1.1; April 2020), the IMF forecast a gloomy three percent drop in world output in 2020. However, global real GDP ascends sharply in 2021 by 5.8 percent. GDP retreats in advanced economies by -6.1pc year-on-year in 2020, but climbs 4.5pc in 2021. According to the IMF, US GDP collapses -5.9pc in 2020 but jumps 4.7pc in 2021. Emerging/developing marketplaces allegedly will suffer only a one percent fall in calendar 2020, with GDP growing a rapid 6.6pc in 2021 (compare 2019’s modest 3.7pc expansion). China supposedly will manage to grow 9.2 percent in 2021 (1.2pc in 2020), although its GDP fell -6.8pc year-on-year in 1Q20.
US corporate earnings depend on many phenomena, and of course not all corporations depend (directly) on consumer purchasing (whether by Americans or others) to the same extent. Yet US corporate earnings estimates from Wall Street pulpits, like the IMF’s vision, generally display optimism for calendar 2021 despite the sharp year-on-year falls expected for calendar 2020.
However, a survey of several key US variables closely linked to the situation of the American consumer nevertheless suggest that the injury to the American consumer “in general” and thus the country’s overall economy has been and will continue to be severe. A very substantial portion of the general public is in rough shape. Numerous other consumers are fearful regarding their future. Between the terrifying unemployment situation (and at least the near term outlook for it) and a relatively high arithmetical household debt level prior to the coronavirus devastation, most American consumers probably will be cautious spenders for quite some time. Even if the coronavirus pandemic significantly subsides relatively soon, how rapidly will the shattered consumer sector race to resume its prior buying habits and thus boost GDP substantially? Moreover, the planned reopening of America’s economy probably will be gradual. And how quickly will firms, whether large or small, rehire a large number of laid-off workers? In addition, widespread worries about the ongoing and future coronavirus waves likely will persist, and people await the development of a proven vaccine and adequate testing.
Thus America’s economic recovery probably will be slow rather than fast (or even fairly quick on a sustained basis). Optimism heralded by the IMF and many other leading institutions, enthusiastic gospels from US “investment” gurus regarding magnificent corporate earnings in calendar 2021, and similar propaganda likely will be disappointed.
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American Consumers- the Shape We're In (5-4-20)