An Outlook for the Second Half of 2020

Global Chief Investment Officer
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Last week's Behind the Markets podcast featured Ellen Zentner, Chief Economist at Morgan Stanley. Zentner's team just released their outlook for the second half of 2020, and we discussed what they see coming in the latter half of the year.

The Economic Revival

We talked about what will help reignite the economy, including pent-up demand finally being released. Given that demand activity was simply not allowed to take place during much of the second quarter, due to the economic shutdown, we may see a strong revival beginning in the summer months.

Zentner sees this in the retail sales reports and motor vehicle sales. She expects to continue to see more evidence of this as we continue reopening the economy. This is helping drive market sentiment, as we extrapolate these recent trends.

What Zentner is more concerned about is what happens six months from now when unemployment is still high, and we see how many more permanent jobs were lost as a result of the economic shutdown. We do not know how much of the recent job gains were driven by Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which required companies to rehire staff. Zentner does not see us out of the woods yet.

Consumer spending is driven by confidence. Morgan Stanley’s team surveyed thousands of households, and one of the encouraging data points for her was that 60% of respondents did not need to see a vaccine to return to their daily activities. Few people said they would never go to a movie theater again because of the coronavirus. Zentner sees pent-up demand continuing to drive a modest recovery through July, and then expects it to take eight quarters for consumer spending to get back to pre-coronavirus levels.

By comparison, it took fourteen quarters to get to the previous peak of consumer spending after the global financial crisis, so she expects this to be a much faster recovery. Households went into this downturn with debt levels that were at 20-year lows, and mortgage delinquency rates were also at record lows. In the 10 years after the global financial crisis, the growth in debt never outpaced growth in income. It took five years to deleverage balance sheets after 2008, which restricted consumer spending.

Half of the respondents to the Morgan Stanley survey said they have some work-from-home (WFH) capability in their jobs, which was up from 15% prior to the virus, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys. WFH spending more resembles retirement spending, and Zentner’s team at Morgan Stanley is thinking about how that shift will affect consumer trends.

Is higher inflation coming?

In his media appearances, Professor Jeremy Siegel has been discussing the potential for 3%–5% inflation over the next few years. While Zentner is skeptical the Federal Reserve would allow inflation to run that hot, she does see structural trends beyond the coordinated policy measures that could contribute. Trends that suppressed deflation over last 30 years may no longer do so going forward. Policy makers are dissatisfied with the very low share of income that laborers get, and labor's share of profits may be rising. Likewise, a trend towards globalization looks to be reversing and that also may reverse deflationary pressures.

You can listen to our full conversation with Ellen Zentner below.

For more investing insights, check out our Economic & Market Outlook


About the Contributor
Global Chief Investment Officer
Follow Jeremy Schwartz

Jeremy Schwartz has served as our Global Chief Investment Officer since November 2021 and leads WisdomTree’s investment strategy team in the construction of WisdomTree’s equity Indexes, quantitative active strategies and multi-asset Model Portfolios. Jeremy joined WisdomTree in May 2005 as a Senior Analyst, adding Deputy Director of Research to his responsibilities in February 2007. He served as Director of Research from October 2008 to October 2018 and as Global Head of Research from November 2018 to November 2021. Before joining WisdomTree, he was a head research assistant for Professor Jeremy Siegel and, in 2022, became his co-author on the sixth edition of the book Stocks for the Long Run. Jeremy is also co-author of the Financial Analysts Journal paper “What Happened to the Original Stocks in the S&P 500?” He received his B.S. in economics from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and hosts the Wharton Business Radio program Behind the Markets on SiriusXM 132. Jeremy is a member of the CFA Society of Philadelphia.