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With businesses across not only the U.S. but around the world shut down in an effort to mitigate the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic, people are concerned about just how severe the economic fallout will be.
The current situation is not only unprecedented, it is also progressing at lightning speed, making economic consequences difficult to track. But there are preliminary gauges that may be able to predict how deep economic contractions could be before more concrete data become available down the line.
A new study from the University of Chicago noted that one indicator that tends to correlate with economic downturns is electricity consumption.
In 2008, during the financial crisis for example, while grid-scale electricity consumption fell about 5 percent in the U.S., from peak to trough GDP fell around 4.3 percent.
The new paper focuses on energy consumption in the European Union amid measures taken to slow the spread of coronavirus. As of the week ending April 3, consumption had declined about 10 percent. Readings were markedly different across countries, however. In Italy and Spain, for example, where outbreaks have been severe, energy consumption was down 23.1 percent and 14.9 percent, respectively. On the other hand, in Bulgaria consumption rose 2.9 percent.
“The overall picture is one of a sudden and large decline in economic activity in Europe,” researcher Steve Cicala wrote. “Preliminary work on the historical record indicates an approximately 1-for-1 short-term relationship with standard economic indicators, which would suggest a dire situation if it were to persist for an extended period of time.”
Power use in the U.S. is down about 8 percent. Goldman Sachs has forecast a 0 percent growth rate in the first quarter and a 5 percent contraction in the second quarter.
According to data from the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), electricity consumption declined between 2 percent and 3 percent by the middle of March. Declines steeped during the week ending March 27 to the 4 percent to 5 percent range.
However, Cicala noted that the current pandemic is different from other types of economic shocks and the accuracy of the model depends in part on how closely the electricity consumption of individuals from home mirrors that of the office.