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What Lies Ahead: 2021 Economic Projections and the Year in Review

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What Lies Ahead? 2021 Global Economic Projections

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With over 1.4 million deaths worldwide, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every corner of society.

Yet, hope seems suddenly near. Crucial vaccine developments are emerging, with many of the 320 vaccines in advanced trials. Still, questions remain around the timing and effectiveness of the potential vaccine. With this in mind, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that this year, global real GDP will fall –4.4%, bouncing back 5.2% in 2021.

As we look back on a historic year, this infographic from New York Life Investments traces the notable events of 2020, along with growth forecasts for the year ahead.

2020: Year in Review

From a deadly virus to U.S. elections, how did we get to where we are now?

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, $12 trillion in global fiscal response helped stabilize the economy. Despite financial markets facing their sharpest drop in 30 years, the S&P 500 rebounded in record speed—recovering losses in under four months.

 S&P 500 Price Returns Global COVID-19 Cases
January-1%27
February-9%11,948
March-21%87,091
April-11%883,804
May-7%3.23M
June-5%6.15M
July0%10.48M
August7%17.63M
September3%25.57M
October0%34.09M
November11.7%*46.17M

Source: European CDC via Our World in Data
*As of November 27, 2020

In April, oil prices dropped into negative territory for the first time ever. The combination of both a demand shock and supply shock led oil futures to fall to -$37.63. Since then, oil prices recovered modestly, hovering close to $45 in November.

In another historic event, wildfires ravaged through the West Coast of the U.S., burning five million acres across Oregon, California, and Washington. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases continued to climb. Global reported cases exceeded the 25 million mark by September.

Finally, on November 16, Moderna announced that its COVID-19 vaccine was 94.5% effective, just days after the 2020 president-elect, Joe Biden was announced.

Despite the number of record-breaking incidents over the year, the tech-dominated S&P 500 held steady. Here is how key economic figures have materialized against the backdrop of 2020:

1. Government Debt

Government debt rose 20% relative to GDP in advanced economies, while debt has grown at a slower pace in emerging market and low-income countries.

Gross Debt Position (% of GDP)20192020
Advanced economies105%125%
Emerging market and middle-income economies53%62%
Low-income developing countries43%49%

Source: IMF

2. Inflation

Overall, inflation was lower than pre-pandemic levels, sitting at around 1.5%.

While commodities and medical supplies saw their prices rise, weak global demand for overall goods cancelled out these inflationary effects.

3. Sector Performance

Service sectors were hit among the hardest as social distancing measures were enacted to stave off the pandemic.

In the first half of 2020, accommodation, arts, and entertainment sectors fell close to 15% compared to 2019. Meanwhile, banks were cushioned with cash reserves in the event of unexpected risks, breaking roughly even in year-over-year growth.

While the economy has encountered numerous challenges, the IMF expresses cautious optimism for the year ahead.

2021: Global Growth Outlook

Since the IMF’s June projections, economic growth forecasts have somewhat improved. Primarily, optimism is being driven from Q2 GDP growth that exceeded expectations.

Global Growth ForecastsApril JuneOctober
2020-3.0%-4.9%-4.4%
20215.8%5.4%5.2%

Source: IMF

By contrast, pre-pandemic projections for 2020 and 2021 were 3.3% and 3.4%, respectively.

Over 2020, China enacted several strict measures to contain COVID-19 early in the outbreak, a key factor behind its economic momentum. Meanwhile, India is projected to rebound 8.8%—higher than any other country in 2021, according to IMF-reported countries.

While several factors remain uncertain, what will pave the way for a global recovery?

Analysis of a Successful Global Recovery

Growth projections are improving, but economic success will hinge on these three layers.

 3 Layers for Economic Success 
1The path of COVID-19Public health measures & the race for a vaccine

Impact on domestic economic activity
2Global consumer demandTourism activity

Remittance flows
3Financial market sentiment and capital flowsSupply disruptions

Policy effectiveness

To prevent further unwanted outcomes, it will be essential that policy support is not withdrawn too soon.

The Road to Recovery

With these factors in mind, how could global conditions transform in the months ahead?

Best Case ScenarioWorst Case Scenario
Accelerating global demand

Maintaining liquidity for countries in need

International cooperation

Fair and equal vaccine
implementation across countries
Weakened economic activity

Tightening lending conditions for countries in need

Protectionist measures

Country-level vaccine disparities

In the face of these obstacles, the health of the global economy rests on sufficient consumer demand, capital flows and COVID-19 containment. With news of vaccine developments underway, the outlook is appearing a bit brighter.

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Infographics

A Visual Guide to Planning for Retirement

Did you know the average American will outlive their savings by nearly 10 years? In this infographic, we cover the basics of retirement planning.

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How Retirement Planning Today, Can Ensure Freedom and Stability Tomorrow

When it comes to retirement planning, millions of Americans across different generations are finding it difficult to feel secure.

This is evidenced by the fact that only 54% of Baby Boomers have a retirement strategy in place. For younger generations such as Millennials, this falls to as low as 31%.

Thankfully, it’s never too late to start thinking about retirement. In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we’ve put together a straightforward overview that covers the various aspects of the retirement planning process.

How Much Should You Save?

Although this is one of the most frequently asked questions, it doesn’t come with an easy answer. That’s because retirement planning isn’t just about dollars saved, it’s also about income.

The following table lists a number of factors that could affect the level of retirement income you might need:

FactorDescription
LifestyleYour desired lifestyle will have a large impact on your required level of income.
Hobbies, vacations, and other pursuits can be a significant expense.
Housing needsRetirees often find themselves needing less space.
Selling your home and downsizing is a common method for increasing cash flows.
Medical needsMedical expenses can arise unexpectedly and be a large drain on savings.
The average American aged 65+ spends roughly $11,000 a year on medical needs.*
InflationInflation can erode the purchasing power of your retirement income, and highlights
the importance of picking the right investments to counter this effect.

*Source: U.S. Department of Health

After estimating your retirement income, the next step is figuring out how to achieve it. Here’s how a savings plan might look, based on two assumptions: (i) your retirement income is equal to 70% of your current annual income, and (ii) you are able to generate an annual return of 7%.

Annual salaryAnnual retirement incomeRequired savingsMonthly contributions
(20 years until retirement)
Monthly contributions
(25 years until retirement)
Monthly contributions
(30 years until retirement)
$50,000$35,000$777,778$1,480$955$635
$75,000$52,500$1,166,667$2,230$1,435$955
$100,000$77,000$1,711,111$3,270$2,100$1,395

The key takeaway from this table is that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the lower your monthly burden will be.

It’s also important to remember that the 70% retirement income goal was simply used as a benchmark—your own retirement strategy will ultimately be guided by your unique needs.

The Importance of Financial Assets

In the previous example, our second assumption was that you were able to earn an annual return of 7%. Achieving this typically requires the use of financial assets like stocks and bonds, which have the potential to grow your wealth much faster than a typical savings account.

For example, as at March 15, 2021, the national average interest rate offered by a savings account was 0.04%. Compare this to the S&P 500, which has generated an average annualized return of 13.9% between 2011 and 2020. The S&P 500 is a stock market index that consists of the 500 largest publicly-traded U.S. corporations.

Issues become apparent when we take a closer look at who actually owns stocks.

U.S. Families by WealthPercentage of Families with Equity Exposure
Top 10%90%
Middle 50-90%70%
Bottom 50%31%

Source: Federal Reserve

With only 31% of families in the bottom 50% having exposure to stocks, many Americans are missing out on a powerful tool for growing their wealth. This highlights the importance of investor education, particularly when thinking about retirement.

Retirement Planning Accounts

Retirement accounts are another important tool that many Americans are not using to their advantage. For example, just 50.5% of Americans own a retirement account, while 98.2% own transaction accounts (checking or savings).

Here’s a simple overview of two retirement accounts that most Americans have access to.

Traditional IRA

A traditional IRA (Individual Retirement Account) provides tax benefits to help you prepare for retirement. It can be opened online or in-person through various banks, brokerage firms, wealth managers, or trading platforms.

Contributions to this account may reduce your taxable income for that given year, but these assets will be locked until retirement. Once retired, any untaxed income would be taxed upon withdrawal, ideally when you are in a lower marginal tax bracket.

Traditional 401(k)

A traditional 401(k) is typically offered through your employer and offers similar tax benefits as an IRA. Contributions into a traditional 401(k) reduce your taxable income, but in this case, they are automatically taken from your payroll.

An added benefit of the 401(k) is that your employer will usually match some or all of the contributions you make.

Roth IRA and Roth 401(k)

The Roth variants of these accounts follow a similar concept as their “traditional” counterparts, but flipped around. This means that contributions are taxed, while withdrawals are tax-free.

Ultimately, the decision to use either a Roth or traditional account will depend on your financial position, and can be a great topic to discuss with a professional advisor.

Feeling Secure

While everyone has different goals for retirement, the need for financial security is shared by all.

It’s been estimated, however, that the average American has a retirement savings shortfall of nearly 10 years. Also known as longevity risk, this dilemma refers to the scenario where retirement savings and income are unable to support you for the rest of your life.

With this in mind, it’s never too late to take control of your future and put a plan into place.

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Infographics

Visualized: The Economic Benefits of a Green Recovery

A green recovery is projected to boost global GDP by 1.1% annually, along with saving 9 million jobs. What opportunities does this present for investors?

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Visualized: The Economic Benefits of a Green Recovery

After years of technological advancement, many renewable energy sources are now more efficient than traditional sources of energy.

Thanks to their falling prices and scalability, a green recovery, which centers on worldwide funding and policy support for green energy alternatives, is gaining strong momentum.

This infographic from New York Life Investments unpacks how a green recovery will benefit both the economy and investor portfolios.

What is a Green Recovery?

A green recovery is the intention of allocating the unprecedented global wave of public spending, pent up over the course of the 2020 pandemic, exclusively towards investment in sustainable systems to support:

  • The creation of millions of jobs
  • Improved productivity
  • A structural decline in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)

Green Recovery: The Economic Benefits

It is projected that nine million jobs per year will be created or saved over the next three years in a green recovery, along with 1.1% added in global economic growth annually.

Let’s look at two reasons why a sustainable recovery is gaining traction:

  1. Lower costs in energy spending
  2. More jobs created

To start, a sustainable recovery would involve 2% of U.S. GDP invested in low carbon energy. Compare this to current U.S. energy spending, which stands at roughly 6% of GDP—sitting at near lows. In fact, in the past, energy spending in the U.S. has reached as high as 13% of GDP.

Secondly, for every $1 million investment in renewable energy, more than twice as many jobs are created per category than in traditional energy. For instance, 7.5 jobs are created in the wind energy industry versus 2.2 in oil & gas.

Per $1 Million InvestmentTypeJobs Created
Renewable EnergyEnergy Efficiency7.7
Wind7.5
Solar7.2
Traditional EnergyCoal3.1
Oil & Gas2.2

Source: World Resources Institute, 07/28/20

With this in mind, let’s take a look at how investors can take advantage of a sustainable recovery across three industries.

1. Renewable Energy

Historically, energy demand has sharply rebounded after major economic shocks.

Following the Spanish Flu, energy demand plummeted over 15%—but rebounded by almost 25% the year after. Similarly, in the years that followed the Great Depression, World War II and the Global Financial Crisis, energy demand spiked.

In 2020, energy demand growth hit a 70-year low, created by the largest absolute decline ever. If history repeats itself, energy may be poised for a substantial demand increase.

On top of this, renewables have become significantly cheaper and scalable in recent years. Solar energy is a prime example. It is now one of the most affordable sources of electricity. In fact, the price of energy from new power plants—vital sources that generate energy for society—has changed significantly over the last decade.

Energy TypePrice per MWh (2009)Price per MWh (2019)Price % Change
Coal$111$109-2%
Solar Photovoltaic$359$40-89%
Onshore Wind$135$41-70%
Gas (combined cycle)$83$56-32%

Source: Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis via Our World in Data, 01/12/20

In 2019, over 50% of new global power capacity came from solar photovoltaic and wind power.

2. Transportation

Globally, as electric vehicle (EV) sales have accelerated, so have public chargers, illustrating a new infrastructure opportunity for investors. In 2019, there were 1 million public chargers built worldwide. Since 2014, public chargers in Europe specifically have more than doubled to over 200,000.

Year# of Global Electric Vehicles
2012110,000
2013220,000
2014400,000
2015720,000
20161.2M
20171.9M
20183.3M
20194.8M

At the same time, economies are planning for a wave of green transport investments.

Italy, for instance, plans to invest $33 billion in sustainable mobility as part of its $231 billion green recovery plan. Meanwhile, Germany is investing $6 billion in the electrification and modernization of its rail and bus system. Interestingly, high-speed rail uses 12 times less energy per passenger than airplanes or road transport trips under 500 miles.

Like renewable energy, electric vehicles, high-speed rail, and modern transport infrastructure are all central to the new chapter in sustainable investment.

3. Low-carbon Technology

Finally, you can’t talk about a sustainable recovery without net-zero emissions, where all emissions created are also removed from the atmosphere.

In recent months, net-zero targets have increased substantially. In January 2020, 34% of all global emissions were covered by net-zero targets. By March 2021, this reached 50%. Decarbonization will play a critical role in reaching net-zero targets.

Crucially, net-zero emissions can be achieved through the following decarbonization options:

  • Carbon capture: Chemical absorption and the injection of CO2 into depleted reserves
  • Nuclear energy: Produces energy through nuclear reactions
  • Storage & utilization: Improved electricity grid storage
  • Renewable innovation, and others: Includes hydrogen, batteries, and scaling renewables

Even in the wake of the pandemic, global investment in decarbonization topped half a trillion dollars in 2020, 9% higher than in 2019.

New Turning Point

COVID-19 is radically reshaping the sustainable investment landscape.

In 2020, nearly 25% of all U.S. stock and bond mutual fund net inflows went into sustainable funds. By 2025, as many as half of all investments are projected to be ESG-mandated in the United States. From modern infrastructure to low-carbon tech, sustainable investments present many opportunities for investors.

Supported by lower costs and government policies, sustainable investments show potential for promising growth.

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