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America’s Post-Pandemic Economic Prospects

 

After dealing with the steepest, deepest, and fastest recession in history, there are clear indications that the U.S. economy has begun the first stages of recovery. As workplaces have gradually started to reopen, consumer spending, construction, and manufacturing are beginning to revive. However, with some restrictions still in place, and many Americans understandably reluctant to venture out, a full recovery will likely take an extended period of time. In particular, there are a variety of sectors that could face an extremely rocky road over the next year, and may never fully return to prepandemic levels. As well, the hit to confidence, wealth, and employment prospects
from the swift downturn will keep some households and businesses cautious in their spending plans.

 

"Economies are resilient, and people and businesses can be incredibly resourceful in the face of challenges—don’t underestimate the ability to recover from this tough period."

 

While policymakers, markets, and businesses are all still dealing with the effect and extent of the deep economic downturn, attention is turning to what the economy will look like after the storm. Some encouraging early indications from the initial reopening included a partial rebound in jobs, auto and home sales, and overall retail sales in May. Even so, we still believe that the U.S. economy will contract by more than 5% in 2020, by far the deepest annual decline in GDP in the post-war era. Yet, as we have consistently maintained since the shutdowns began, growth is expected to rebound to roughly 5% next year, helping bring down the jobless rate markedly. Even with a forceful recovery, the challenge will be to get the economy back to full health.

In this report, we delve deeper into the prospects for economic recovery in the months and years ahead, including what sectors will lead, and which will be constrained. Some industries will naturally rebound quickly as distancing measures lighten, and others could even see accelerated growth in the new circumstances. One overarching theme is that the crisis may accelerate and accentuate some trends that were developing in any event. However, it may also lock in some adjustments that may not have happened otherwise. We also consider some of the roadblocks to a swifter recovery, and what are some potential opportunities amid those obstacles.

Our overriding message is that, while there are serious challenges ahead for the economy, there are also important reasons to remain positive on the medium-term outlook. There is no doubt that some sectors will face persistent challenges as a result of the shutdowns and distancing measures, as well as some potentially fundamental changes in consumer behavior and psychology (in the absence of an effective vaccine). But at the same time, in classic creative destruction fashion, there will be some sectors that strengthen and step into the gap. The main conclusion is that economies are resilient, and people and businesses can be incredibly resourceful in the face of challenges—don’t underestimate the ability to recover from this tough period.

 

Visit economics.bmo.com

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Michael Gregory, CFA Managing Director, Deputy Chief Economist and Head of U.S. Economics

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