Health and Healthcare Systems

Z, V or 'Nike swoosh' – what shape will the COVID-19 recession take?

A person walks past closed shops in Bury, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bury, Britain, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble - RC2NJG94BMU5

Analysts are forecasting that Nike's famous tick logo could be the likely model of our painful crawl back to full economic health. Image: Reuters/Phil Noble

Peter Beech
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COVID-19

The “Great Lockdown” has hit global economies hard. Business shutdowns have left unemployment soaring, supply chains fragmented and markets plummeting. One International Monetary Bank official has said the Great Lockdown could lead to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The resulting recovery is likely to be slow and experts have considered a range of models for what that might recovery could look like. Earlier this spring, some analysts hoped for a V-shaped recovery that would see us bounce back quickly. Now, some back the “Nike swoosh” – a stuttering comeback over a longer time.

The Brookings Institution recently outlined a range of models that analysts and economists have been considering. We’ve combined their analysis with insights from other sources, including those quoted by investment magazine Barron’s, the BBC and others to provide a full range of voices for what could happen next.

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Z-shaped recovery

Z-shaped recovery
Z-shaped recovery Image: Brookings Institution

Brookings notes this is the most optimistic timeline. In this outcome, its experts explain, the public goes on a spree once restrictions are eased, spending all the money they’d held tight to during lockdown. With this scenario, retail, hospitality and travel could see a brief boom as people celebrate the end of restrictions, before GDP settles back into its pre-pandemic trajectory. Businesses make back the money they would have made during the lockdown. Even the many optimistic observers say this outcome is unlikely.

V-shaped recovery

A V-shaped Recovery, shown through historic US GDP data Image: BBC

A V-shaped rebound would bring a sharp dip in economic activity matched by an equally brisk surge back to normality. This scenario is considered one of the best case scenarios, reports the BBC, since it assumes a downturn might just last a handful of quarters.

The U-shaped recovery

Image: Brookings Institution

This model shows a sharp dip followed by a long return to a pre-COVID trajectory, one that could last several quarters. In this recovery, we might not see a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine until 2021, according to Barron’s, and consumer spending would edge closer to normal then.

The ‘Nike swoosh’-shaped recovery

Economic projections in the UK and Eurozone into 2022.
Economic projections in the UK and Eurozone into 2022. Image: Bloomberg

The “Nike swoosh” recovery, named after the iconic check-mark logo, brings a dramatic surge once lockdowns end, and a boost that’s blunted quickly. In this scenario, Brookings notes, it “takes a long while for the economy to get back to pre-pandemic trajectory.”

W-shaped recession

Image: BBC

This recovery is also known a “double-dip recession”, explains the BBC. The W-shaped curve remains a possibility if finding a treatment or vaccine proves more difficult than expected, adds Barron’s. In this model, new waves of infections bring additional lockdowns and economic uncertainty.

Despite their prominence in warning headlines, double-dip recessions are rare, with only two occurring in modern US history: 1937-38 and 1981-87, both of which resulted from changes in fiscal policy.

L-shaped recession

Image: Brookings Institution

In this scenario, notes Brookings, the pandemic permanently impacts GDP. Lost investment, paired with productivity slowdowns causes “the trajectory of GDP to be lower than it otherwise would.”

Modern examples include the 2008 recession – from which western economies have not yet recovered, with real GDP still below pre-recession projections – and Japan’s “lost decade” in the 1990s, with the nation yet to return to the growth it saw before that crash, as the BBC reports.

Looking ahead

Many analysts, policymakers and executives believe that only a vaccine or rapid development in COVID-19 treatment will see us return to pre-pandemic projections. As long as the virus remains dangerous, growth will be suppressed.

In the meantime, leaders and experts from around the world are doing what they can to blunt the global economic impact of the crisis. As the International Monetary Fund’s Kristalina Georgieva said last month, a crisis like no other requires a response like no other.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsEconomic Growth
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