A quick analysis by Magellan on the economic actions taken by various governments around the world and likely outcomes
The policy responses cover those by central banks and governments. Central banks appear to be taking two courses. The first is to reduce interest rates as far as practicable; that is, making money effectively free. The other is to ensure the financial system has sufficient liquidity to ensure it doesn’t freeze. We are seeing massive injections of liquidity by central banks via a scaling up of quantitative easing, providing liquidity-support facilities to businesses, liquidity support to other central banks (currency swaps) and liquidity to critical areas of the economy such as the repo markets and money-market funds.
We have been impressed with the actions taken by the major central banks to date; they are acting nimbly, and with scale and speed. They appear to be winning the fight to head off a liquidity crisis, and will tailor responses as issues emerge. At the same time, some difficult issues haven’t yet been addressed that are likely to put further strains on the financial system. One unresolved issue is the support to be given to sub- investment-grade companies that have borrowed in the high-yield and leverage-loan markets. Another area to be resolved is what happens when many companies have their credit ratings downgraded from investment grade to sub-investment grade. Solving these issues is difficult and might require a co-ordinated response from governments and central banks.
With fiscal policy, we are seeing governments implement four possible packages of fiscal responses. One is to compensate all businesses for 100% of their lost revenue. This would keep balance sheets intact and enable businesses to pay all their employees and key suppliers; for example, landlords, lenders and so on. Businesses could furlough workers and restart when the economy reopens. In this instance, there would be a limited rise in unemployment, despite a hit to GDP, and activity would resume when the economy reopens. The output gap would be transferred to governments and to central-bank balance sheets via quantitative easing. This would be a V-shaped economic recovery. Singapore and Denmark come closest to adopting this strategy.
The second strategy is to compensate businesses for some of their revenue loss and allow them to meet permitted expenses such as wages, interest on loans, rent and utilities. Employees would be furloughed. The US has a program to lend up to US$10 million to companies employing fewer than 500 people. Under this strategy, a large part of the output gap would be transferred to governments and central-bank balance sheets and the remainder would be shared by society. This would save many businesses and enable them to restart. This combined with an effective mitigation strategy would be the best chance of a U-shaped economic recovery. Germany is following this strategy.
The third strategy is to compensate workers for 70% to 100% of lost wages (typically capped at the median wage). This strategy preserves personal balance sheets, but not businesses that have to manage fixed costs. The issue here is that, outside of wages, the remainder of the output gap would fall on businesses, landlords, utilities and banks. This is also likely to hit property prices. Even if many businesses survive, they would emerge with additional debt or balance sheets that were damaged. This would impede their ability to invest and employ as many people as before. They would cut costs to survive even when the economy restarted. This strategy would head off the most dire of economic outcomes but it is unlikely to prevent a deep and prolonged recession and a significant jump in unemployment. Many western governments are pursuing this strategy. These governments might well provide additional fiscal support to preserve businesses’ balance sheets that could be expected to support a stronger economic recovery.
The last strategy is zero compensation. A country loses 17% to 50% of annual output (depending on the duration of the blow to the economy). Many businesses would not survive, particularly small businesses. The property market would crash. Banks would face severe loses. This is the depression scenario. Fortunately, almost no developed country is following this strategy. We fear many emerging markets will not have effective mitigation strategies and be unable to fill a meaningful part of the output gap. We are particularly concerned about Africa, Latin America, India and emerging countries in Southeast Asia.
The situation remains fluid. It is difficult to predict how the next two to 12 months will play out.
We think there is a range of outcomes for the economic recovery, from a V-shaped recovery (a fleeting recession) to a U-shaped recovery (a mild recession), a prolonged and deep recession and, at the pessimistic end, a depression. We believe that for many major economies a V-shaped recovery and a depression appear the least likely scenarios. Outside of a few countries, a recession (a U-shaped recovery) to a deep and prolonged recession appear the most likely outcomes at this point in time. The good news is that governments and central banks are calibrating their responses to attempt to mitigate the economic fallout.