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What’s At Risk: An 18-Month View of a Post-COVID World

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What's At Risk 18 Month View of COVID-19 Risks

What’s At Risk: An 18-Month View of a Post-COVID World

As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, no part of society seems to be left unscathed. Fears are surmounting around the economy’s health, and dramatic changes in life as we know it are also underway.

In today’s graphic, we use data from a World Economic Forum survey of 347 risk analysts on how they rank the likelihood of major risks we face in the aftermath of the pandemic.

What are the most likely risks for the world over the next year and a half?

The Most Likely Risks

In the report, a “risk” is defined as an uncertain event or condition with the potential for significant negative impacts on various countries and industries. The 31 risks have been grouped into five major categories:

  • Economic: 10 risks
  • Societal: 9 risks
  • Geopolitical: 6 risks
  • Technological: 4 risks
  • Environmental: 2 risks

Among these, risk analysts rank economic factors high on their list, but the far-reaching impacts of the remaining factors are not to be overlooked either. Let’s dive deeper into each category.

Economic Shifts

The survey reveals that economic fallout poses the most likely threat in the near future, dominating four of the top five risks overall. With job losses felt the world over, a prolonged recession has 68.6% of experts feeling worried.

RankEconomic Risk%
#1Prolonged recession of the global economy68.6%
#2Surge in bankruptcies (big firms and SMEs) and a wave of industry consolidation56.8%
#3Failure of industries or sectors in certain countries to properly recover55.9%
#4High levels of structural unemployment (especially youth)49.3%
#6Weakening of fiscal positions in major economies45.8%
#7Protracted disruption of global supply chains42.1%
#8Economic collapse of an emerging market or developing economy38.0%
#16Sharp increase in inflation globally20.2%
#20Massive capital outflows and slowdown in foreign direct investment17.9%
#21Sharp underfunding of retirement due to pension fund devaluation17.6%

The pandemic has accelerated structural change in the global economic system, but this does not come without consequences. As central banks offer trillions of dollars worth in response packages and policies, this may inadvertently burden countries with even more debt.

Another concern is that COVID-19 is now hitting developing economies hard, critically stalling the progress they’ve been making on the world stage. For this reason, 38% of the survey respondents anticipate this may cause these markets to collapse.

Social Anxieties

High on everyone’s mind is also the possibility of another COVID-19 outbreak, despite global efforts to flatten the curve of infections.

RankSocietal Risk%
#10Another global outbreak of COVID-19 or different infectious disease30.8%
#13Governmental retention of emergency powers and/or erosion of civil liberties23.3%
#14Exacerbation of mental health issues21.9%
#15Fresh surge in inequality and social divisions21.3%
#18Anger with political leaders and distrust of government18.4%
#23Weakened capacity or collapse of national social security systems16.4%
#24Healthcare becomes prohibitively expensive or ineffective14.7%
#26Failure of education and training systems to adapt to a protracted crisis12.1%
#30Spike in anti-business sentiment3.2%

With many countries moving to reopen, a few more intertwined risks come into play. 21.3% of analysts believe social inequality will be worsened, while 16.4% predict that national social safety nets could be under pressure.

Geopolitical Troubles

Further restrictions on trade and travel movements are an alarm bell for 48.7% of risk analysts—these relationships were already fraught to begin with.

RankGeopolitical Risk%
#5Tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of people and goods48.7%
#12Exploitation of COVID-19 crisis for geopolitical advantage24.2%
#17Humanitarian crises exacerbated by reduction in foreign aid19.6%
#22Nationalization of strategic industries in certain countries17.0%
#27Failure to support and invest in multilateral organizations for global crisis response7.8%
#31Exacerbation of long-standing military conflicts2.3%

In fact, global trade could drop sharply by 13-32% while foreign direct investment (FDI) is projected to decline by an additional 30-40% in 2020.

The drop in foreign aid could also put even more stress on existing humanitarian issues, such as food insecurity in conflict-ridden parts of the world.

Technology Overload

Technology has enabled a significant number of people to cope with the impact and spread of COVID-19. An increased dependence on digital tools has enabled wide-scale remote working for business—but for many more without this option, this accelerated adoption has hindered rather than helped.

RankTechnological Risk%
#9Cyberattacks and data fraud due to sustained shift in working patterns37.8%
#11Additional unemployment from accelerated workforce automation24.8%
#25Abrupt adoption and regulation of technologies (e.g. e-voting, telemedicine, surveillance)13.8%
#28Breakdown of IT infrastructure and networks6.9%

Over a third of the surveyed risk analysts see the emergence of cyberattacks due to remote working as a rising concern. Another near 25% see the threat of rapid automation as a drawback, especially for those in occupations that do not allow for remote work.

Environmental Setbacks

Last but certainly not least, COVID-19 is also potentially halting progress on climate action. While there were initial drops in pollution and emissions due to lockdown, some estimate there could be a severe bounce-back effect on the environment as economies reboot.

RankEnvironmental Risk%
#19Higher risk of failing to invest enough in climate resilience and adaptation18.2%
#29Sharp erosion of global decarbonization efforts4.6%

As a result of the more immediate concerns, sustainability may take a back seat. But with environmental issues considered the biggest global risk this year, these delayed investments and missed climate targets could put the Earth further behind on action.

Which Risks Are of the Greatest Concern?

The risk analysts were also asked which of these risks they considered to be of the greatest concern for the world. The responses to this metric varied, with societal and geopolitical factors taking on more importance.

VC_What's-at-Risk-v5-supp

In particular, concerns around another disease outbreak weighed highly at 40.1%, and tighter cross-border movement came in at 34%.

On the bright side, many experts are also looking to this recovery trajectory as an opportunity for a “great reset” of our global systems.

This is a virus that doesn’t respect borders: it crosses borders. And as long as it is in full strength in any part of the world, it’s affecting everybody else. So it requires global cooperation to deal with it.

——Gita Gopinath, IMF Chief Economist

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Shapes of Recovery: When Will the Global Economy Bounce Back?

Economic recovery from COVID-19 could come in four shapes—L, U, W, and V. What do they mean, and what do global CEOs see as the most likely?

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The Shape of Economic Recovery, According to CEOs

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Whenever the economy is put through the ringer, levels of optimism and pessimism about its potential recovery can vary greatly. The current state mid-pandemic is no exception.

This graphic first details the various shapes that economic recovery can take, and what they mean. We then dive into which of the four scenarios are perceived the most likely to occur, based on predictions made by CEOs from around the world.

The ABCs of Economic Recovery

Economic recovery comes in four distinct shapes—L, U, W, and V. Here’s what each of these are characterized by, and how long they typically last.

  • L-shape
    This scenario exhibits a sharp decline in the economy, followed by a slow recovery period. It’s often punctuated by persistent unemployment, taking several years to recoup back to previous levels.
  • U-shape
    Also referred to as the “Nike Swoosh” recovery, in this scenario the economy stagnates for a few quarters and up to two years, before experiencing a relatively healthy rise back to its previous peak.
  • W-shape
    This scenario offers a tempting promise of recovery, dips back into a sharp decline, and then finally enters the full recovery period of up to two years. This is also known as a “double-dip recession“, similar to what was seen in the early 1980s.
  • V-shape
    In this best-case scenario, the sharp decline in the economy is quickly and immediately followed by a rapid recovery back to its previous peak in less than a year, bolstered especially by economic measures and strong consumer spending.

Another scenario not covered here is the Z-shape, defined by a boom after pent-up demand. However, it doesn’t quite make the cut for the present pandemic situation, as it’s considered even more optimistic than a V-shaped recovery.

Depending on who you ask, the sentiments about a post-pandemic recovery differ greatly. So which of these potential scenarios are we really dealing with?

How CEOs Think The Economy Could Recover

The think tank The Conference Board surveyed over 600 CEOs worldwide, to uncover how they feel about the likelihood of each recovery shape playing out in the near future.

The average CEO felt that economic recovery will follow a U-shaped trajectory (42%), eventually exhibiting a slow recovery coming out of Q3 of 2020—a moderately optimistic view.

However, geography seems to play a part in these CEO estimates of how rapidly things might revert back to “normal”. Over half of European CEOs (55%) project a U-shaped recovery, which is significantly higher than the global average. This could be because recent COVID-19 hotspots have mostly shifted to other areas outside of the continent, such as the U.S., India, and Brazil.

Here’s how responses vary by region:

RegionL-shapeU-shapeW-shapeV-shape
Global (N=606)32%42%16%11%
U.S. (N=103)26%42%23%9%
Europe (N=110)29%55%12%4%
China (N=122)25%43%11%21%
Japan (N=95)49%26%23%1%
Gulf Region (N=16)57%26%17%-

In the U.S. and Japan, 23% of CEOs expect a second contraction to occur, meaning that economic activity could undergo a W-shape recovery. Both countries have experienced quite the hit, but there are stark differences in their resultant unemployment rates—15% at its peak in the U.S., but a mere 2.6% in Japan.

In China, 21% of CEOs—or one in five—anticipate a quick, V-shaped recovery. This is the most optimistic outlook of any region, and with good reason. Although economic growth contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter, China has bounced back to a 3.2% growth rate in the second quarter.

Finally, Gulf Region CEOs feel the most pessimistic about potential economic recovery. In the face of an oil shock, 57% predict the economy will see an L-shaped recovery that could result in depression-style stagnation in years to come.

The Economic Recovery, According to Risk Analysts

At the end of the day, CEO opinions are all over the map on the potential shape of the economic recovery—and this variance likely stems from geography, cultural biases, and of course the status of their own individual countries and industries.

Despite this, portions of all cohorts saw some possibility of an extended and drawn-out recovery. Earlier in the year, risk analysts surveyed by the World Economic Forum had similar thoughts, projecting a prolonged recession as the top risk of the post-COVID fallout.

It remains to be seen whether this will ultimately indeed be the trajectory we’re in store for.

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The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart

The world’s total GDP crested $88 trillion in 2019—but how are the current COVID-19 economic contractions affecting its future outlook?

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The $88 Trillion World Economy in One Chart

The global economy can seem like an abstract concept, yet it influences our everyday lives in both obvious and subtle ways. Nowhere is this clearer than in the current economic state amid the throes of the pandemic.

This voronoi-style visualization from HowMuch relies on gross domestic product (GDP) data from the World Bank to paint a picture of the global economy—which crested $87.8 trillion in 2019.

Editor’s note: Annual data on economic output is a lagging indicator, and is released the following year by organizations such as the World Bank. The figures in this diagram provide a snapshot of the global economy in 2019, but do not necessarily represent the impact of recent developments such as COVID-19.

Top 10 Countries by GDP (2019)

In the one-year period since the last release of official data in 2018, the global economy grew approximately $2 trillion in size—or about 2.3%.

The United States continues to have the top GDP, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the world economy. China also continued to grow its share of global GDP, going from 15.9% to 16.3%.

RankCountryGDP% of Global GDP
#1🇺🇸 U.S.$21.4T24.4%
#2🇨🇳 China$14.3T16.3%
#3🇯🇵 Japan$5.1T5.8%
#4🇩🇪 Germany$3.9T4.4%
#5🇮🇳 India$2.9T3.3%
#6🇬🇧 UK$2.8T3.2%
#7🇫🇷 France$2.7T3.1%
#8🇮🇹 Italy$2.0T2.3%
#9🇧🇷 Brazil$1.8T2.1%
#10🇨🇦 Canada$1.7T2.0%
Top 10 Countries$58.7 trillion66.9%

In recent years, the Indian economy has continued to have an upward trajectory—now pulling ahead of both the UK and France—to become one of the world’s top five economies.

In aggregate, these top 10 countries combine for over two-thirds of total global GDP.

2020 Economic Contractions

So far this year, multiple countries have experienced temporary economic contractions, including many of the top 10 countries listed above.

The following interactive chart from Our World in Data helps to give us some perspective on this turbulence, comparing Q2 economic figures against those from the same quarter last year.

One of the hardest hit economies has been Peru. The Latin American country, which is about the 50th largest in terms of GDP globally, saw its economy contract by 30.2% in Q2 despite efforts to curb the virus early.

Spain and the UK are also feeling the impact, posting quarterly GDP numbers that are 22.1% and 21.7% smaller respectively.

Meanwhile, Taiwan and South Korea are two countries that may have done the best at weathering the COVID-19 storm. Both saw minuscule contractions in a quarter where the global economy seemed to grind to a halt.

Projections Going Forward

According to the World Bank, the global economy could ultimately shrink 5.2% in 2020—the deepest cut since WWII.

See below for World Bank projections on GDP in 2020 for when the dust settles, as well as the subsequent potential for recovery in 2021.

Country/ Region / Economy Type2020 Growth Projection2021E Rebound Forecast
United States-6.1%4.0%
Euro Area-9.1%4.5%
Advanced economies-7.0%3.9%
Emerging economies-2.5%4.6%
East Asia and Pacific-0.5%6.6%
Europe and Central Asia-4.7%3.6%
Latin America and the Caribbean-7.2%2.8%
Middle East and North Africa-4.2%2.3%
South Asia-2.7%2.8%
Sub-Saharan Africa-2.8%3.1%
Global Growth-5.2%4.2%

Source: World Bank Global Economic Prospects, released June 2020

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