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Second quarter GDP could plunge 10%, economist warns

Myles Udland
Markets Reporter

We are only just beginning to see what the economic fallout from coronavirus will be.

And Wall Street economists are now throwing out some brutal forecasts for what economic data in the quarters ahead might hold.

“We now guesstimate that second quarter GDP will drop at a 10% annualized rate, after a 2% fall in Q1,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note to clients on Monday night.

The gnarliest figures in Shepherdson’s forecast come from where he sees consumer spending heading during the next few months.

“We are becoming more pessimistic about the near-term economic outlook,” Shepherdson writes.

“Discretionary consumers' spending — that is, consumption excluding housing, healthcare, food and energy — accounts for some 39% of GDP, and some of the major components are set for massive second quarter meltdowns... We are pencilling-in a 20% plunge in discretionary consumers' spending in the second quarter, enough alone to subtract some eight percentage points from GDP growth.”

As Shepherdson told the New Yorker on Monday, the coronavirus-related economic hit is going to be “catastrophic.”

A nearly empty food court with Katz's delicatessen seen at City Point on March 16, 2020 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, we got somewhat dated but still ugly data for retail sales in February. Retail sales fell 0.5% last month against expectations for 0.2% advance. This was the worst retail sales print since December 2018.

“Shoppers kept their wallets surprisingly closed in February with slower spending on cars, furniture, electronics and restaurants and bars,” said Greg Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

“With strict measures restraining social activities now in place to contain the coronavirus outbreak, consumer spending is poised for a severe pullback in coming months.”

And while most economists now expect the economy will tip in to recession — and may in fact be in recession already — the worst of the economic data is unfortunately ahead of us.

The only thing we don’t know is for how long.

Myles Udland is a reporter and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland

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