Optimism for a V-Shaped Recovery: A Summary of the CAM and HBA Annual Mid-Year Economic Forecast
By Dennis Burck
The CAM/HBA Mid Year Economic Forecast has been providing an annual industry review for ten consecutive years. While the 2020 gathering had to be done virtually, it was still a much-needed insight into what we may expect from our economy in the coming months. CAM and HBA were thrilled to welcome Elliot Eisenberg, PhD, as our 2020 economist and guest presenter. Special thanks to all of our sponsors and participants.
2020 has been a year of many firsts for the construction industry and beyond. This year’s Mid-Year Economic Forecast sees many industries and sectors of the economy showing early signs of V-shape rebounding, followed by projected long-term steady growth to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
Elliot Eisenberg, chief economist for consulting agency GraphsandLaughs LLC, lead the seminar. Known as the “Bowtie Economist,” his voice has appeared in many publications, including Bloomberg, Business Week, Bureau of National Affairs, Forbes and Fortune. He is also a member of the Expert Advisory Board of Mortgage Market Guide and is a regular consultant to several large real estate professional associations, hedge funds and investment advisory groups.
“What is going on is the following: Our economy is suffering two things at once. We are experiencing a recession, and we are experiencing suppression,” Eisenberg said.
“Suppression is ending, and we are getting a nice beginning of an improvement. There is a mechanical element to this. Just getting out of your house means you are going to spend money. There will be a rapid recovery. But then the recession sets in and the question is how fast will we recover from that?”
Eisenberg supported his forecast threefold with data-driven analysis on GDP growth, inflation and construction from a variety of accredited economic and federal sources.
Lake Michigan Credit Union and Plante Moran generously sponsored the seminar.
How Firms and Lenders Are Navigating the Pandemic
Laura Claeys, a CPA Partner for Plante Moran, said the temporary pause is over and we are seeing many organizations return to work. “Although the economy in Michigan has been slowed by the pandemic, we feel there is pent-up demand in the state,” Claeys said. “Many jobs in the state have been delayed, but not canceled. Optimism in the state remains very high even though the working conditions might be different than we’re used to.”
The pandemic provided organizations the opportunity to access their structure, look at their team and strategy to make them stronger and nimbler to address economic challenges in the future, she added. “We’ve helped many of our clients take that inventory in their organization and found creativity, excitement and plenty of opportunity for them to move forward,” Claeys said.
“Lending institutions are stronger than they were in the last downturn, which I think bodes well for all construction companies and organizations in Michigan. Plante Moran is proud to be in the State of Michigan and serve the construction community.”
As a long-time sponsor of the Mid-Year Economic Forecast, Lake Michigan Credit Union was represented by Chief Lending Executive Eric Burgoon. “We thought it is important to give you an update for you and your customers that will really help you smoothly work through the closing process with your team since there are some things that changed in our industry,” Burgoon said.
The CARES Act dramatically changed the number of mortgages that are placed in forbearance, the deferment of payments on a mortgage. “Prior to the CARES Act, 0.2 percent of all mortgages nationwide are in forbearance. Now 10 percent are in forbearance. This has really affected the building industry a couple of key ways.” One thing it does is puts into question whether or not someone can purchase or build a home because availability to some lenders has declined, he said.
“This has really created a fear in the industry of escalating foreclosures. This has caused many lenders to dramatically change their underwriting guidelines. Specifically, large banks have created credit overlays or eliminated products completely.” Common changes are higher credit score requirements, higher down payments and higher interest rates on large products. These are things the construction industry must take a second look at now.
“You want to make sure one of your clients building with you that they have preapproval for a mortgage in process to reassess that. Make sure that preapproval is still valid, make sure the lending partner you are working with follows guidelines so when you get to the end of the construction period, it is not a problem,” Burgoon said.
The pandemic hasn’t changed Lake Michigan Credit Union, however. “We are proud to say we have not changed our products at all. We continue to offer construction financing throughout the shutdown. We still offer our 5 percent down construction loan. We haven’t had any credit overlays or done anything to make getting a mortgage more difficult.”
Though large sections of the economy were effectively shut down for months to combat the spread of the pandemic, there are enough early indicators to show the first stages of meaningful recovery, according to Eisenberg. “Do not confuse this early recovery with a true ‘V’-shaped recovery. With autos and homebuilding, I think there will be a true ‘V,’ but it will not be everywhere.”
The first sector of the economy to provide the backbone to the forecast was automotive data.
Data from LMC Automotive shows a decent ‘V’ shaped upturn, while JD Power reports it may have new car purchases recover to pre-pandemic levels by August. “Automobiles are relatively like the harbinger of housing because they are a large [purchase] like a house,” he said. “This is a pretty good sign, but temper your enthusiasm.”
Another meaningful metric was restaurant traffic, up much higher since more venues opened up across the county. “I am more optimistic about it and believe the improvement is solid and real. This is a perfect example of suppression ending. This depends on a large extent how we psychologically feel about going to a restaurant.”
Other indicators that showed meaningful growth were manufacturing and hotels.
However, there are still many obstacles to overcome to increase the GDP to pre-pandemic levels. One problem is that firms are hesitant to invest along with a growing number of unknown factors along with the pandemic to consider–a trade deal with China, a second wave of the virus and the U.S. government’s response is pressing. Furthermore, Eisenberg cites publicly traded companies are suspending their dividends or reducing their dividends in levels haven’t seen since the Great Recession (2008-2009).
Chiefly among all other obstacles to GDP improvement is unemployment, Eisenberg emphasized. Estimates from the Wall Street Journal range from 20 to 30 million jobs lost due to the crisis. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ June report shows a 13 percent unemployment rate. Due to calculation errors by the study, Eisenberg argues that the real number is closer to 16.3 percent.
“People who lost their jobs will have to find new jobs with new employers, and that is going to take time,” Eisenberg said. “We are not going to create 20 million jobs in a month. That is simply not going to happen. If we create 2 million, I’ll be very happy.” For reference, during the height of unemployment during the Great Recession, the unemployment rate was 10 percent.
Sustained recovery comes down to the government stepping up to secure households and support businesses to get back on their feet, he stresses. “Government spending has come to the rescue. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. The government came out guns blazing here,” Eisenberg said. “Our economy was in a coma, and this kept us alive period while we were locked in our houses and didn’t have our jobs.”
More needs to be done to get the unemployment number down. “Even at 10 percent, we saw mass dislocations and a long, miserable recession. I’d like to think it would come down to 11 or 12 by the end of the year. This will still be worse than the last recession so congress has to come through with funding.”
Due to the low-interest rates at 0.125 percent, now is not the time to worry about the national deficit, he added. According to Eisenberg, the consequences of increasing the deficit will be nothing compared to the “ravages” of what the economy will endure without additional spending. “This is threat number one to our economy: Will congress come through, and how much will they come through with? They are going to help households get jobs and while they are unemployed. If they don’t come through and we go through this time of high unemployment in this 13 to 14 percent range, we are going to have a world of hurt in our economy.”
Eisenberg said he doesn’t see politics ultimately obstructing the recovery spending. “There is political will to do it, they are just fighting over what they want. They are going to figure it out, but they need to do it before the end of July. They do not have the luxury to be waiting.” If significant relief measures are taken, the recession will be relatively short and painful with a steady recovery, he said.
Inflation - What Inflation?
The U.S. Department of the Treasury injected $267 billion of stimulus checks for most Americans into the economy to combat the economic fallout from the pandemic.
“You are going to say ‘The money base is going up like crazy. More money, more inflation?’ I don’t think so,” Eisenberg said. It is important to note that the monetary base does not create inflation on its own, he added.
“First you have to have the velocity of money moving. The dollars here are not moving anywhere: Banks hold bonds. The Central Bank creates money then gives this to the bank.”
Though most Americans have all gotten $1,200 richer, this is moot in comparison to how the Central Bank and other banks are handling this crisis. “There is no more money in the economy since the banks are trading. The bank in turn takes the bond and gives it to the Central Bank. The bank is essentially trading bonds for cash to the Central Bank,” Eisenberg said.
Another indicator Eisenberg and his fellow economists use to measure the threat of inflation is the type of inflation. CPI inflation is more volatile as it includes food and energy prices. But Core inflation is the metric to watch. When considered, there is no evidence of inflation from the Core standpoint, he said. “So, what is going to happen to rates? Absolutely nothing for years.”
The best construction news comes from the housing market, according to Eisenberger.
“Housing is in a ‘V’-shaped recovery. It is a sector that is doing remarkably well. It completely collapsed and completely recovered.”
An unaccounted-for psychological effect, he argues, is that after people were stuck in their houses, they realize they want to move. “There are unprecedented mortgage applications,” Eisenberg said. “Things are going to improve.”
What follows this crisis is an entirely different scenario in comparison to the 2008 crash when housing was at the center of the recession. “Housing is not the crux of the problem. Now there are no houses. Look at the inventory: 1.5 million now compared to the 4 million years ago,” Eisenberg said. “In terms of new housing, 2010-2020 is the worst decade of building in decades. There is a massive shortage of housing.” Eisenberg forecasts a full recovery in housing construction by August or September due to the higher demand.
“This is a recession that bypassed housing,” he said. “This is a true ‘V’-shaped recovery. Prices continue to rise. Rates are low and demand is strong.”
If history can be a guide to the present crisis, data from how the economy faired after the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 can be an indicator. In a graph of all U.S. economic recessions in history, the data shows the pandemic as a 6-month recession.
“This is the recession that followed the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918. It led to a depression, but the depression was unbelievably short. The Spanish Influenza killed 500,000 people. This is a very big percentage of the population. It comes in two waves and goes away. Then the economy rockets,” Eisenberg said.
Recessions coming from issues outside of the U.S. border tend to be shorter, he added. “This is a recession with nothing organic. 2000 was the Dot Com Boom. 2008 was massively organic. The recession of 1990 was too much real estate,” Eisenberg said. “Those three were all slow and jobless recoveries. I tend to think this one is going to look like those older recessions because of the evolution of it. There is nothing organic here. We were just whacked from this virus from China.”
With his personal graph utilizing data from the best available sources, he forecasts the worst will be a 10 percent real decline, then we will make up 4 percent of that loss by the end of the year. “It will take two full years until February 2022 to get things where they were. This is going to be a slow recovery. First quick, then slow, but we’ll get out of it.”
Elliot Eisenberg, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed economist and public speaker specializing in making the arcana and minutia of economics fun, relevant and educational. He earned a B.A. in economics with first class honors from McGill University in Montreal, as well as a Masters and Ph.D. in public administration from Syracuse University. Eisenberg, a former Senior Economist with the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C., is the creator of the multifamily stock index (the first nationally recognized index to track the total return of public firms principally involved in the ownership and management of apartments), the author of more than eighty-five articles, serves on the Expert Advisory Board of Mortgage Market Guide and is a regular consultant to several large real estate professional associations, hedge funds and investment advisory groups. He has spoken to hundreds of business groups and associations, often as keynote speaker. Learn more at https://econ70.com.