World Economic Outlook 2020-2021: The Great Lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the U.S and world economies a series of often unprecedented shocks—the “Great Lockdown” as economists refer to it, basically closed a wide range of sectors including travel, tourism and entertainment and many more, resulting in unemployment rates in the U.S. of more than 20 percent as of June 2020 and drastic revisions of worldwide economic growth for 2020 and 2021.

In a Connectiv/SIIA webinar on June 3, Chris Walker, Deputy Division Chief of the International Monetary Fund, offered an overview of how government and financial institutions are attempting to combat the crisis as well as economic forecasts for the U.S. and other advanced and emerging economies based on IMF research that can be found here.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IMF had predicted the U.S. economy would grow at a rate of 2.3 percent in 2020—basically the same rate of growth for the last 10 years. Now, however, the IMF has dramatically revised its forecast, suggesting a drop of 5.9 percent for the U.S. and 7.5 percent for the Euro area this year.

“Anticipated drop per person worldwide is considered to be much sharper than during the 2009 financial crisis, which at the time was consider the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression,” said Walker. “That highlights the scale of what we are dealing with.”

Governments and financial institutions have also taken actions not seen since 2009 (and in many cases, exceeding those measures) in an effort to preserve economies, including paycheck protection, loans for small business and individual rebates, as well as the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates to nearly zero.

“If you consider the three packages passed by Congress, that’s an increase in spending of about $3 trillion or 3% of the total GDP,” said Walker. “The Fed has provided a huge amount of credit support to the corporate sector and even extended lending to municipalities. Interest on a 10-year bond is now well below 1%, something no one anticipated the U.S. would ever reach.”

A recovery path depends on several factors, most notably a resurgence of COVID-19 in the second half of 2020 and 2021. “Our initial estimate is that we will not have a V-shape recovery for advanced economies–it’s actually shaped more like a check-mark with a sharp drop followed by a more gradual recovery over time,” said Walker. “Most risks are to the downside, with the first downside scenario being the outbreak lasts longer than originally anticipated. That means that at the toughest point, growth will be 2% or 3% worse than what we forecast. For example, the forecast for the U.S. is minus 5.9% for 2020 but that could end up being a loss of 8%.”

On the bright side, neither the U.S. government nor world economic institutions have exhausted their means of support. “We can’t borrow indefinitely even at these rates and not expect to see repercussions,” said Walker. “However, we are far from limit of support that the government can provide. If you can issue debt at less than zero percent and it can be used to support economic activity, that is an opportunity.”