How long will the current economic downturn go on, and how will we know when it's over -- or at least that things are starting to improve? Economic experts have varying predictions, but several of them point to specific signs to watch for that will tell us when the economy is beginning to bounce back.
The personal finance site GOBankingRates polled a wide range of experts, either by interviewing them or reviewing their published remarks, and put together 17 predictions for when we might see the economy begin to improve. You can find the whole list here. These are some of the top signs to watch for.
1. Unemployment claims start to drop.
Right now, of course, unemployment is rapidly on the rise, and the numbers are very frightening. So far, 26.5 million people have applied for unemployment over the past six weeks, a record number. A Trump adviser told Reuters that unemployment could go up to 16 percent or higher.
Those numbers represent a great deal of pain for many American families. And we'll know the worst is over when they start to reverse, according to Wafa Hakim Orman, associate dean of the College of Business at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. "The most important indicators to keep an eye on will be payrolls and unemployment claims," she said in a statement released by the university. Like most economists, she warned that things will get worse before they get better, noting that some experts expect unemployment rates to reach 20 percent before they start coming down.
2. Consumers begin spending by choice.
"People are still spending -- the question is when will discretionary spending take place?" Paul Miller, founder of Miller & Company and a frequently quoted financial expert, told GOBankingRates. The answer to that question depends on how confident people feel about their incomes, he said. "If people feel safe and are comfortable with their job, they will spend money. If they do not, this will slow spending."
If jobs return swiftly and people feel comfortable spending again within a year, he added, "You could see the GDP back to normal." That would be quite a recovery. The GDP fell 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020. But since most of the effect of the pandemic so far came after that time, economists expect the GDP drop in the second quarter of 2020 to be closer to 30 percent.
3. B2B spending starts to rise.
Before either unemployment drops or discretionary consumer spending rises, we'll see an earlier indication of recovery when businesses start increasing their B2B spending, according to Jim Swift, founder of Cortera, a risk management software platform that uses information gathered from major U.S. companies to predict economic trends.
Such spending will be the first sign of a recovery, he told GOBankingRates: "That will indicate that businesses are starting to invest in growth and should also mean new jobs."
4. There's a vaccine or a cure for Covid-19.
Although these are medical developments rather than economic ones, more than one expert predicted that the economy wouldn't truly rebound until either a vaccine or a cure for Covid-19 is widely available, preferably both.
Although vaccines are being tested in several places, including Seattle and Oxford, England, most health experts agree that a widely available vaccine is 12 to 18 months away at least and quite possibly longer. As for a cure, the FDA will reportedly soon give emergency approval for Covid-19 patients to receive an experimental antiviral drug called remdesivir, which has been shown in trials to quicken recovery from the illness and may possibly reduce the risk of death from it as well. Remdesivir may be helpful against the disease, but it stops well short of being a cure. And, as with the vaccines, it's impossible to know how long it will take for the drug to be widely available to the hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 patients around the country.
Still, news of remdesivir's success in a large trial was enough to drive a stock market rally, despite bleak economic news and a death count that, at least temporarily, makes Covid-19 the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Why is the market rallying? Because of "the expectation that whatever the world looks like nine or 12 months down the road, it's going to look better than it does now," Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist for private banking at Brown Brothers Harriman, told The New York Times. Right or wrong, that expectation is the best hope we have for a recovery that comes sooner rather than later.