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Economic Outlook

Prior to COVID-19, Expectations Were Mostly Positive

Before the global pandemic reset the world stage, the vast majority of firms expected either stability or improvement in the U.S. economy in 2020, with a greater percentage expecting further improvement compared to 2018 (50% vs. 46%). Although not as high as other years, this sentiment ran similar to higher overall recovery levels (51%+). Most firms expected improvement in their company’s overall financial performance this year. Nearly all firms anticipated either economic improvement or stability, similar to other post-recession years. It is unfortunate that these positive expectations for the U.S. economy and company performances in early 2020 are likely to remain unrealized.

Globally, expectations trended positive but there was some dissonance. Overall expectations shifted back to growth vs. stability as the percentage of firms expecting improvement in both emerging and developed global market economies went back up (49% vs. 43%, emerging; 47% vs. 39%, developed). However, firms in both emerging and developed markets saw projections for worsening performances more than double in two years (14% vs. 6%, emerging; 16% vs. 7%, developed). These projections indicate that even prior to COVID-19, there were signs that the global picture showed areas of potential weakness.

Expectations for improvement in the U.S. real estate market also remained similar to the last two years (41% vs. 37%+), far below 2017 (55%), with 14% of firms projecting the market would worsen in 2020, similar to 2019 (18%). Prior to the interventions responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, interest rates were rising to stave off inflation as housing costs were notably higher after roughly eight years of recovery from the Great Recession. Even as nearly half of firms expected stability during 2020 prior to COVID-19, there were still indications of potential challenges emerging in the domestic real estate market.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Across company size, nearly two-thirds of firms anticipated better performances in 2020; around half expected improvement in both developed and emerging global market economies.
  • Roughly half of firms across size expected further improvement in the U.S. economy and around four out of ten expected stability.
  • Expectations for the U.S. real estate market were essentially the same across size, as roughly half expected stability and four out of ten expected improvement. Approximately one-tenth of firms across size expected the market to worsen.

When asked about expectations for 2020 economic performance by trade bloc, projections were essentially positive prior to the pandemic:


Among all firms responding, 87% predicted stability or improvement, and one in eight predicted worsening. Small firms held divergent opinions: one in five expected the North American trade bloc economic performance to worsen, but 42% expected improvement. Mid-size and large firms were less likely to predict worsening conditions, with the vast majority holding firm to expectations of stability or improvement.


Around eight of ten international firms across size predicted stability or improvement for Great Britain’s economy in 2020, while roughly one in five predicted worsening conditions. Across size, nearly half of these firms expected Great Britain’s economy would improve.


Among all firms responding, 82% anticipated stability or improvement in 2020. Roughly one in five firms expected worsening conditions. Small firms were the least optimistic, with one in four expecting the EU trade bloc to underperform, followed by large firms, with one in five expecting worsening conditions. Mid-size firms were the most positive, with 52% expecting improvement and 37% expecting stability.

After seeing positive expectations for the year in early 2020, it is painful to realize how different the emerging reality will be post-pandemic for many companies and the world at large. It is also humbling to see predictions for a bright future dashed by a combination of factors that leave us in very different circumstances than what was expected less than two months ago.

Question 13-1
Rating of companies overall financial performance in 2019
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Question 13-2
Rating of U.S. real estate market in 2019
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Question 13-3
Rating of emerging global market economies in 2019
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Question 13-4
Rating of developed global market economies in 2019
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Question 13-5
Rating of U.S. economy in 2019
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Question 13-6
Rating of U.S./Canada/Mexico trade bloc economic performance in 2019
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Question 13-7
Rating of United Kingdom's economy in 2019
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Question 13-8
Rating European Union trade bloc economic performance in 2019
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Question 14-1
Anticipated overall financial performance of company in 2020
Chart Q14-1
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Question 14-2
Anticipated U.S. real estate market in 2020
Chart Q14-2
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Question 14-3
Anticipated emerging global market economies in 2020
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Question 14-4
Anticipated developed global market economies in 2020
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Question 14-5
Anticipated U.S. economy in 2020
Chart Q14-5
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Question 14-6
Anticipated U.S./Canada/Mexico trade bloc economic performance in 2020
Chart Q14-6
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Question 14-7
Anticipated United Kingdom’s economy in 2020
Chart Q14-7
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Question 14-8
Anticipated European Union trade bloc economic performance in 2020
Chart Q14-8
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