At the dawn of the new year, there’s a strong desire to just forget about 2020, but many of the issues that hit like a Mack truck last year remain. The truly big question is, where will we be in January 2022?
In the various predictions, surveys and outlooks from economists and business leaders, 2021 will surely be better—heck how could it be worse?
The big numbers certainly look better. The International Monetary Fund predicts the U.S. economy will grow gross domestic product by 3.9 percent, a drastic flip positive from the -4.1 percent it predicted for full-year 2020 and an acceleration from the 2.2 percent growth seen in 2019. Morgan Stanley sees an even more positive flip to 5.1 percent growth from the full-year 2020 decline of 3.5 percent. Overall, the consensus of GDP watchers and predictors puts 2021 at 3.8 percent growth.
Down on Main Street, the disaggregated view will be uneven and bumpy. A COVID-19 vaccine is coming, but even at the warp speed at which it was developed, it feels far away. Even as the first people are getting vaccinated, wide availability is not expected until June or July. What actually happens then remains questionable, too. In a 500-person survey of institutional investors by investment analysis firm Natixis, 80 percent of respondents said the long-term effects of the pandemic have been underestimated. Some 32 percent of respondents think consumer discretionary spending will underperform the market—a space that covers most of franchising.
There’s also a lot riding on further support from the government. Almost every industry is clamoring for further help, another round of the Payroll Protection Program and cash for individuals. Those lifelines for businesses and individuals could mean the difference between a deepening economic crisis in 2021 or a return to a something closer to the old normal.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was beating that drum in front of Congress and everywhere he could at the end of the year, saying essentially if we want a better 2021, the government has to act soon. Powell told Congress a better year ahead depends on two things: “The path forward will depend on keeping the virus under control, and on policy actions taken at all levels of government.”