COVID-19 Crash: How China’s Economy May Offer a Glimpse of the Future
The Economic Impact of COVID-19
China, once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, appears to be turning a corner. As the number of reported local transmission cases hovers near zero, daily life is slowly returning to normal. However, economic data from the first two months of the year shows the damage done to the country’s finances.
Today’s visualization outlines the sharp losses China’s economy has experienced, and how this may foreshadow what’s to come for countries currently in the early stages of the outbreak.
A Historic Slump
The results are in: China’s business activity slowed considerably as COVID-19 spread.
|Economic Indicator||Year-over-year Change (Jan-Feb 2020)|
|Investment in Fixed Assets*||-24.5%|
|Value of Exports||-15.9%|
*Excluding rural household investment
As factories and shops reopen, China seems to be over the initial supply side shock caused by the lockdown. However, the country now faces a double-headed demand shock:
- Domestic demand is slow to gain traction due to psychological scars, bankruptcies, and job losses. In a survey conducted by a Beijing financial firm, almost 65% of respondents plan to “restrain” their spending habits after the virus.
- Overseas demand is suffering as more countries face outbreaks. Many stores are closing up shop and/or cancelling orders, leading to an oversupply of goods.
With a fast recovery seeming highly unlikely, many economists expect China’s GDP to shrink in the first quarter of 2020—the country’s first decline since 1976.
Danger on the Horizon
Are other countries destined to follow the same path? Based on preliminary economic data, it would appear so.
About half the U.S. population is on stay-at-home orders, severely restricting economic activity and forcing widespread layoffs. In the week ending March 21, total unemployment insurance claims rose to almost 3.3 million—their highest level in recorded history. For context, weekly claims reached a high of 665,000 during the global financial crisis.
“…The economy has just fallen over the cliff and is turning down into a recession.”
—Chris Rupkey, Chief Economist at MUFG in New York
In addition, manufacturing activity in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware dropped to its lowest level since July 2012.
Other countries are also feeling the economic impact of COVID-19. For example, global online bookings for seated diners have declined by 100% year-over-year. In Canada, nearly one million people have applied for unemployment benefits.
Hard-hit countries such as Italy and Spain, which already suffer from high unemployment, are also expecting to see economic blows. However, it’s too soon to gauge the extent of the damage.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Given the near-shutdown of many economies, the IMF is forecasting a global recession in 2020. Separately, the UN estimates COVID-19 could cause up to a $2 trillion shortfall in global income.
On the bright side, some analysts are forecasting a recovery as early as the third quarter of 2020. A variety of factors, such as government stimulus, consumer confidence, and the number of COVID-19 cases, will play into this timeline.
How Disinflation Could Affect Company Financing
History signals that after a period of slowing inflation—also known as disinflation—debt and equity issuance expands.
How Disinflation Could Affect Company Financing
The macroeconomic environment is shifting. Since the second half of 2022, the pace of U.S. inflation has been dropping.
We explore how this disinflation may affect company financing in Part 2 of our Understanding Market Trends series from Citizens.
Disinflation vs. Deflation
The last time inflation climbed above 9% and then dropped was in the early 1980’s.
|Time Period||March 1980-July 1983||June 2022-April 2023*|
|Inflation at Start of Cycle||14.8%||9.1%|
|Inflation at End of Cycle||2.5%||4.9%|
* The June 2022-April 2023 cycle is ongoing. Source: Federal Reserve. Inflation is based on the Consumer Price Index.
A decrease in the rate of inflation is known as disinflation. It differs from deflation, which is a negative inflation rate like the U.S. experienced at the end of the Global Financial Crisis in 2009.
How might slowing inflation affect the amount of debt and equity available to companies?
Looking to History
There are many factors that influence capital markets, such as technological advances, monetary policy, and regulatory changes.
With this caveat in mind, history signals that both debt and equity issuance expand after a period of disinflation.
Companies issued low levels of stock during the ‘80s disinflation period, but issuance later rose nearly 300% in 1983.
Source: Bloomberg. U.S. public equity issuance dollar volume that includes both initial and follow-on offerings and excludes convertibles.
Issuance grew quickly in the years that followed. Other factors also influenced issuance, such as the macroeconomic expansion, productivity growth, and the dotcom boom of the ‘90s.
Similarly, companies issued low debt during the ‘80s disinflation, but levels began to increase substantially in later years.
|Year||Deal Value||Interest Rate|
Source: Dealogic, Federal Reserve. Data reflects U.S. debt issuance dollar volume across several deal types including: Asset Backed Securities, U.S. Agency, Non-U.S. Agency, High Yield, Investment Grade, Government Backed, Mortgage Backed, Medium Term Notes, Covered Bonds, Preferreds, and Supranational. Interest Rate is the 10 Year Treasury Yield.
As interest rates dropped and debt capital markets matured, issuing debt became cheaper and corporations seized this opportunity.
It’s worth noting that debt issuance was also impacted by other factors, like the maturity of the high-yield debt market and growth in non-bank lenders such as hedge funds and pension funds.
Then vs. Now
Could the U.S. see levels of capital financing similar to what happened during the ‘80s disinflation? There are many economic differences between then and now.
Consider how various indicators differed 10 months into each disinflationary period.
|January 1981||April 2023*|
Next 12 Months
10-Yr Treasury Yield
|Nominal Wage Growth|
Annual, Seasonally Adjusted
|After-Tax Corporate Profits|
As Share of Gross Value Added
* Data for inflation expectations and interest rate is as of May 2023, data for corporate profits is as of Q4 1980 and Q1 2023. Inflation is a year-over-year inflation rate based on the Consumer Price Index. Source: Federal Reserve.
The U.S. economy is in a better position when it comes to factors like inflation, unemployment, and corporate profits. On the other hand, fears of an upcoming recession and turmoil in the banking sector have led to volatility.
What to Consider During Disinflation
Amid uncertainty in financial markets, lenders and investors may be more cautious. Companies will need to be strategic about how they approach capital financing.
- High-quality, profitable companies could be well positioned for IPOs as investors are placing more focus on cash flow.
- High-growth companies could face fewer options as lenders become more selective and could consider alternative forms of equity and private debt.
- Companies with lower credit ratings could find debt more expensive as lenders charge higher rates to account for market volatility.
In uncertain times, it’s critical for businesses to work with the right advisor to find—and take advantage of—financing opportunities.
Learn more about working with Citizens.
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