At a Glance
- Q2 reports on consumer spending, GDP will be the first real signs of the coronavirus economic toll
- Upcoming Q1 earnings will not tell the entire story due to a strong period to begin the year
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down entire states and sports leagues, restricted travel and decimated both the stock and bond markets.
Though people around the world are feeling the effects of this virus right now, like most prolonged crises, it is possible that we will not actually see the full economic impact for a couple of months. Reports that may be the most telling of the coronavirus’ economic impact in the coming weeks and months are consumer spending, monthly jobs reports, GDP and second quarter earnings reports.
During times of distress and crisis, consumers tend to cut back on discretionary spending to prepare for the unknown that may follow. Consumers stop planning vacations, cut back on shopping and spend more on essentials, potentially stocking up in case of emergency.
The coronavirus situation is unique in that consumers may not be able to make the choice for themselves. First quarter consumer spending reports will not be indicative of the entire three-month period. However, second quarter reports will give a better indication of the effect that this global crisis has had on discretionary spending.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the February jobs numbers reported an addition of 273,000 non-farm payroll jobs, substantially higher than the original estimate of 175,000 jobs. The extra 98,000 jobs added to the economy also dropped the unemployment rate to a 50-year low of 3.5%.
Both figures served as reminders that the fundamentals of the economy are intact despite the recent historic sell-off in equities and discount in fixed income. Although the coronavirus outbreak is a unique event, the impact on jobs could be similar to sustained events of the past. During a financial crisis, companies do not have the money to hire new employees and tend to lay-off employees. This pandemic is no different. However with restaurants and other service industries shutting down for a short period of time, the unemployment rate could rise more quickly than usual because of the lack of new hires to offset layoffs.
In addition to new jobs reports, second quarter corporate earnings will be a strong indicator of the real effect of this virus on the economy. Fourth quarter earnings from 2019 were overwhelmingly positive, and through mid-February 2020, the trend of positive earnings appeared on pace to continue.
Upcoming earnings reports for the first quarter will not tell the entire story of how the coronavirus affected corporations because it will be half diluted by a strong month and a half to begin the year. Second quarter earnings will be a more accurate depiction of how companies’ financials were damaged.
The coronavirus may damage national GDP the most. In times of crisis, as consumers spend less, unemployment rises and new hires fall. Production also takes a dramatic hit.
According to the Bureau of Economics, real GDP increased 2.3% in 2019, a product of increased personal consumption expenditures as well as government spending and a weaker dollar leading to more exports. In the fourth quarter of 2019, consumer spending accounted for 68% of the $21.7 trillion U.S. economy.
It is too early to tell the long-term effect that this crisis will have on GDP, but second quarter GDP should reflect the distress and difficulties of countless industries. Projections for Q2 GDP have been as low as -24%.
Though we live in an increasingly digital world where people can virtually purchase anything they need online, humans continue to manufacture, package and distribute the products. The disruption that any global crisis, let alone a health crisis, has on the economy is profound; and there is no data that will reflect this profound impact more than the next two quarterly GDP reports.