The U.S. economy may be in for a ‘square root’–shaped recovery — and you won’t like it any more than algebra class

There’s an alphabet soup of possible outcomes for the economy, and now one mathematical symbol, too.

Some strategists expect the shape of the recovery to resemble a “V”: growth rocketing straight up and to the right after months of pent-up energy. Others more cautiously propose a gradual curve, like a “U.” Alternately, a “W” might suggest a double-dip recession.


Now add to that alphabet soup a square root, which is what analysts at Ned Davis Research are forecasting. If you thought math class was a slog, the economy visualized by a square-root symbol won’t warm your heart.

The Ned Davis analysts, Pat Tschosik and Rob Anderson, didn’t coin the phrase. Famed investor George Soros may have been the first to use it.

At a particularly fraught moment in 2009, just after the stock market bottomed and a few months before the official end of the 2007-09 recession, Soros told Reuters that the economy would naturally bounce a bit after it hit bottom, but then would “settle” into a prolonged period of subpar growth — a “lasting slowdown” that would look like an “inverted square-root sign.”

That is a bit gloomier — not to mention arguably the wrong call — than the scenario visualized in the graphic shown above. The chart, from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, shows a few options for the trajectory of the economy.

The dotted line on the right is worth paying attention to, because, while it signals growth, it also suggests it could take some time for a growing economy to reach the same baseline as before the shock that caused contraction.

It is that slower-for-longer trend that informs the Ned Davis team’s thesis. As Tschosik and Anderson write: “The market continues to rise on a flattening of the COVID-19 curve and hopes of new treatment and/or vaccine. Absent a high-efficacy vaccine, expect the recovery to settle into the ‘new normal’ of lifted stay-at-home orders, but a cautious, if not unemployed, consumer.”

Perhaps more important to the Ned Davis team is that financial markets are, so far, confirming no “V” is in the works. That would take a “convincing breadth thrust,” meaning a recovery in stocks that’s much more widespread than the one that seems to be under way, which is largely concentrated in technology.

As MarketWatch’s Chris Matthews wrote in late April, market breadth is currently at its lowest level since the dot-com bubble two decades ago.

For now, investors seem to be content to look through poor earnings in anticipation of 2021 earnings-growth acceleration, Tschosik and Anderson say.

How to best trade such an environment? The researchers recommend what they call COVID staples, or pharmaceutical and biotech companies that may benefit from work on virus drugs or vaccines, consumer staples that get a boost from the demand for household products and food, and tech titans like Facebook FB, +0.51%, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, +0.50%, Netflix NFLX, -0.22% and Microsoft Corp. MSFT, +0.58%, enhanced by “home entertainment software” GAMR, +1.46%.

One Comment
  • ARnold Wolf
    13 May 2020 at 9:47 pm
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    The economy would normally suffer a square-root recovery except for one important factor. That factor is a a simplifying the root by a very unusual integer called the Donald Trump president formalizer. The Democrats have not taken this fact into their equation to destroy America and all its people simply to eliminate this integer.

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