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Investing

Why we like investing in the United States more than Europe now

The U.S. economy is better able to adapt to the pandemic than the E.U.


When the United States outpaced the world in new COVID-19 cases earlier this year, many questioned our conviction that the U.S. economy would recover faster than Europe’s, as eurozone countries seemed to have the virus so much more under control. However, our conviction rested on structural differences that allowed the U.S. economy to better adapt to the situation.

So far, we’ve been right. As of now, U.S. GDP boasts a roughly four percentage point gap over European GDP in the recovery.

Moreover, this gap is likely to widen as a new COVID-19 wave in Europe invites renewed economic restrictions. That is why we continue to be overweight U.S. equities and underweight European equities. 

How can we be so optimistic about the U.S. recovery as COVID-19 cases surge across the states and some investors remain sidelined by fears of a “double dip” recession?

Our answer: The U.S. economy seems structurally more dynamic and integrated than the European Union’s (EU). The remarkable V-shaped recovery that the U.S. economy has experienced so far is a testament to this dynamism. Moreover, as a more cohesive union, the United States has so far been able to deploy more forceful fiscal and monetary support than the EU has.

The market is recognizing U.S. outperformance

Bloomberg Finance L.P. as of November 2, 2020


What do we mean by “structural dynamism?”

The U.S. economy’s flexibility has enabled it to adapt to COVID-19 by reallocating capital, labor and resources while segments of the U.S. economy have remained shuttered. Indeed, there has been an unprecedented dispersion in economic activity across sectors and geographies.

Consumers are still spending

U.S. consumers continue to spend, just differently. For example, the money that people are no longer spending on air travel is going to online goods consumption. While spending on services remains notably depressed, spending on goods has exploded past pre-pandemic levels (up nearly 8% year-to-date).

Sector rotation

Compared to the United States, the European economy is much more reliant on, and nearly twice as exposed to, international tourism—a sector that continues to be among the hardest hit during the pandemic and seems doomed to endure more pain as coronavirus cases resurge in Europe.

Meanwhile, the U.S. recovery doesn’t seem to be depending on any particular sector. For instance, even though the summer’s rebound in retail spending slowed, strength in housing and manufacturing propelled the recovery forward.

Also, the technology sector, which plays a much bigger role in the U.S. economy than Europe’s, has thrived. In fact, the technology sector has become so big and central to the U.S. economy that it has invited congressional scrutiny, which investors perceive as a risk. However, the recent U.S. elections seem to have left power so divided that congressional gridlock and a lower risk of tech regulations seem likely.

Should the U.S. technology sector continue to outperform, Europe will likely continue to underperform. After all, the combined market cap of the U.S. tech sector now exceeds the entire market cap of all sectors in Europe.

The U.S. economy has also shown its dynamism. With some sectors struggling and others thriving, U.S. entrepreneurs have been scrambling to take advantage of the dislocation wrought by the pandemic. Indeed, 2020 new business formation in the United States outpaces that of Germany and France, and the trend is above what was experienced in 2008 (see below). It is telling that the top-two industries for new U.S. business formation are now (1) online retail, and (2) personal care and laundry services.

U.S. entrepreneurs are finding opportunities in this crisis

 

Census Bureau as of October 24, 2020


Flexible labor market

U.S. workers are also being reallocated across sectors and to the newly formed businesses. Logistics (think supporting online shopping) and construction are helping soak up U.S workers from the unemployment pool. Meanwhile, Europe’s high unionization rates and government programs that have subsidized labor costs during this crisis combined to keep European workers wedded to jobs in struggling industries.

Regional dispersion

A very mobile workforce also aids the U.S. recovery. The U.S. population is more internally mobile than Europe’s: two to three times more, to be precise, according to the OECD.[1]

U.S. workers are more likely to move to areas that are thriving economically. Such flexibility allows workers and industries to be more productive, and helps the system as a whole to be more resilient to shocks.

This mobility is especially important in our current situation, as we’re seeing an unprecedented dispersion in the performance of the individual states’ economies. Some local economies, particularly in the South and Midwest, are experiencing a rapid rebound in economic activity, while more densely populated state economies are still struggling to find their footing.

Generally, we are finding states with lower population densities and economies that skew toward manufacturing have so far fared better than densely populated states with exposure to “high-contact” service industries, such as leisure and hospitality.

Interestingly, the states that have seen the most COVID-19 cases are not those performing the worst economically. On the contrary: We found a slightly positive relationship between a high coronavirus case count and stronger economic performance.[2]

Significant economic dispersion among U.S. states

Federal Reserve Board of Philadelphia, as of September 30, 2020


This mobility is on display even at the county level: Real estate markets in dense urban cores are struggling as workers have been moving out, and creating strong housing markets in nearby suburbs. (See our article, The U.S Housing Market Is Suddenly Booming.)

Clearly, although there have been orders and recommendations to “shelter in place,” Americans have been moving quite a lot during the pandemic.

The importance of policy cannot be overstated

As a much more fiscally integrated union than the EU, the United States was able to deploy much more forceful and coordinated fiscal and monetary support during the height of the 2020 economic crisis. This fiscal support made a major splash—particularly for the consumer. Indeed, U.S. household income actually rose in the second quarter. It is now clear that fiscal support, reflected in the change in disposable income, has been crucial to economic performance during the recovery.

Ironically, the United States’ lack of a pre-existing social safety net and automatic stabilizers such as those found in Europe contributed to U.S. policy forcefulness: The U.S. government threw more money at the crisis, in a “shoot from the hip” approach, than did governments across the pond.

Fiscal stimulus has been key to economic performance during this crisis

 

Oxford Economics/Eurostat/Bureau of Economic Analysis, as of Q4 2020


Looking ahead

We will be watching lockdown orders and stimulus packages as closely as increases in COVID-19 cases.

Frankly, the United States has shown a greater tolerance for accepting pain before imposing economically restrictive lockdowns to manage the health crisis. As long as Americans continue to spend and open sectors continue to absorb resources, the U.S. economy can continue to heal even if control of the virus remains elusive.

In contrast, the eurozone’s recovery will likely be sluggish as European countries freeze their economies once again to deal with the threat to citizens’ health. The recent progress made on the vaccine front is great news, especially for Europe’s economy; however, the timeline of the vaccine rollout is such that the economic gains are unlikely until the second half of 2021 (at the earliest).

While policymakers and ethicists may debate the merits of prioritizing GDP over health, the economics seem clear, at least in the short run. We therefore will remain overweight the United States and underweight Europe in equities.

1. Causa, O. and J. Pichelmann, “Should I stay or should I go? Housing and residential mobility across OECD countries,” OECD Publishing, 21 October 2020. (Link here)
2. In a multivariate regression controlling for state economic performance prior to COVID-19, population density and the manufacturing share of each state, we find that a 1% point rise in COVID-19 cases as a share of each state’s population is associated with a 1.3% point improvement in economic output with a t-statistic of 1.7.

 

 

 

 

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