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The Conference Board Economic Forecast for the U.S. Economy

Updated: March 25th, 2020

The US economy will see a GDP contraction ranging between 1.6% and 6% for 2020, with odds quickly moving toward the worse scenario.

The trajectory of COVID-19 and the economic response over the next few months are uncertain. To help businesses navigate and consider their options during this volatile period, The Conference Board has developed three scenarios for the course of the US economy for the remainder of 2020:

  1. May reboot (quick recovery): Assuming a peak in new COVID-19 cases for the US as a whole by mid-April (with some possible variation by region), economic activity may gradually resume beginning in May.
  2. Summertime V-shape (deeper contraction, bigger recovery): The peak in new COVID-19 cases will be higher and delayed until May, creating a larger economic contraction in Q2 but a stronger recovery in Q3 than in the scenario above.
  3. Fall recovery (extended contraction): Managed control of the outbreak helps to flatten the curve of new COVID-19 cases and stretches the economic impact across Q2 and Q3, with growth resuming by September.

The impact on the economy is different across the three scenarios. In the “May reboot” scenario, GDP growth will shrink by 1.6 percent in 2020 (over 2019). In the “Summertime V-shape” and “Fall recovery” scenarios, the contraction will be much stronger (5.5 percent and 6 percent, respectively). Businesses should prepare for those worst-case scenarios, which have high probability.

In the Fall recovery (extended contraction) scenario we expect GDP to fall at about 30 percent (on annualized basis) in Q2 and continue to shrink in Q3, though at much shallower rate. While Q4 will see a rebound, the economy in all of 2020 will contract by 6 percent (over 2019). Consumer spending will see the largest declines in this scenario, but investment and exports will also suffer large contractions during Q2 and Q3. Fiscal stimuli from the government would be insufficient to offset the declines in the private sector of the economy.

Irrespective of which scenario or variation ultimately plays out, the impact on the unemployment rate will be quite significant. In the “May reboot” scenario, the unemployment rate will go up to 8 percent by Q3 and then gradually drop off during the second half of the year. In the other two scenarios, unemployment may increase to more than 15 percent by Q3, and—especially in the case of the “Fall recovery” scenario—remain at 10 percent or more until the final quarter of the year.

The U.S. Economic Forecast

Percentage change, seasonally adjusted annual rates (except where noted)

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