Research / BFI Working PaperJun 29, 2020

Economic Uncertainty Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dave Altig, Scott Baker, Jose Maria Barrero, Nick Bloom, Phil Bunn, Scarlet Chen, Steven J. Davis, Brent Meyer, Emil Mihaylov, Paul Mizen, Nick Parker, Thomas Renault, Pawel Smietanka, Greg Thwaites

We consider several economic uncertainty indicators for the US and UK before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: implied stock market volatility, newspaper-based economic policy uncertainty, twitter chatter about economic uncertainty, subjective uncertainty about future business growth, and disagreement among professional forecasters about future GDP growth. Three results emerge. First, all indicators show huge uncertainty jumps in reaction to the pandemic and its economic fallout. Indeed, most indicators reach their highest values on record. Second, peak amplitudes differ greatly – from a rise of around 100% (relative to January 2020) in two-year implied volatility on the S&P 500 and subjective uncertainty around year-ahead sales for UK firms to a 20-fold rise in forecaster disagreement about UK growth. Third, time paths also differ: Implied volatility rose rapidly from late February, peaked in mid-March, and fell back by late March as stock prices began to recover. In contrast, broader measures of uncertainty peaked later and then plateaued, as job losses mounted, highlighting the difference in uncertainty measures between Wall Street and Main Street.

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