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Consensus Expectations May Be Overestimating the Recovery Trajectory

Taymour Tamaddon, CFA, Portfolio Manager

Key Insights

  • With so much uncertainty still surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, necessitating ongoing social distancing, it is difficult to gauge just how long this acute economic disruption might last.
  • We believe current consensus expectations may be overestimating the trajectory for improvement and that the time frame for returning to a “normalized” environment could be longer than anticipated.
  • It is difficult to determine exactly when we might emerge from the current crisis, as a range of potential best, worst, and base case scenarios remain in play, but how quickly this happens and when we can get to a normal recessionary environment is crucial in our view.

The severe threat posed by the novel coronavirus to public health and the drastic measures taken by governments to contain its spread have had a significant knock‑on impact on the U.S. and global economies. With so much uncertainty still surrounding the pandemic, necessitating ongoing social distancing measures, it is difficult to gauge just how long this acute economic disruption might last. Accordingly, we believe that current consensus expectations may be overestimating the trajectory for improvement and that the time frame for returning to a “normalized” environment will potentially take longer than is currently anticipated.

Opening Quote Given this uncertain picture, near‑term consensus expectations appear overly optimistic in our view. Closing Quote

Social Distancing Is Central to the Near‑Term Outlook

Trying to determine when a potential peak in the crisis might occur and how long it might take until we get to a normalized environment is highly dependent on how long social distancing measures remain in place, both in the U.S. and globally. While the impact of these measures on containing the outbreak in certain cities like New York has clearly been felt, the same success cannot necessarily be assumed for the rest of the country. Each state has taken its own approach to social distancing, implementing it at different times and with varying levels of support and adherence by the public. Therefore, it is difficult to get an accurate sense of how effective these measures will prove at a nationwide level.

Opening Quote ...we are spending a lot of time trying to understand just how quickly we might be able to get to a normal recession. Closing Quote

The “Best‑Case” Scenario—Peak in Mid‑May

Given this uncertain picture, near‑term consensus expectations appear overly optimistic in our view. Currently, the market is anticipating a peak in the number of new coronavirus cases being reached around mid‑May 2020, after which the number of new cases is expected to rapidly decline, with a return to a more “normal” market environment anticipated by early June 2020.

Our view is that this is a likely best‑case scenario, with around a 15%–20% chance of playing out. Our main concern is that the market appears to be looking toward countries like China, Korea, and Singapore, and the effectiveness that social distancing efforts have had in these countries, and automatically assuming that this success will be replicated in the U.S. We are less optimistic about the near‑term effectiveness of social distancing efforts across the U.S., and so we are also less optimistic about the expected time frame for a return to a normalized environment.

The Coronavirus Pandemic and Its Dislocating Economic Impact
How quickly we can return to a “normalized” environment is key.

The “Base Case” Scenario—Peak in Late May/Early June

A more reasonable base case scenario, in our view, one that we put at around a 60% chance of playing out, is that we see a peak in new cases in late May/early June and start to return to a more normal environment somewhere around mid‑ to late July. This normalcy is likely to last until around mid‑December 2020. However, around this time, during the northern he