NABE Outlook Survey

March 2021


NABE Panelists Are More Optimistic about GDP Growth in 2021, But Most Do Not Expect Job Market Recovery until 2023 or Later

The March 2021 NABE Outlook presents the consensus macroeconomic forecast of a panel of 53 professional forecasters (see last page for listing). The survey, covering the outlook for 2021 and 2022, was conducted February 8-February 16, 2021. The NABE Outlook Survey originated in 1965, and is one of three surveys conducted by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE); the others are the NABE Business Conditions Survey and the NABE Economic Policy Survey. Founded in 1959, the National Association for Business Economics is the professional association for those who use economics in their work. NABE has over 2,900 members and 44 chapters nationwide. Holly Wade (Chair), NFIB; Gregory Daco, Oxford Economics; Jan Hogrefe, Boeing; Mervin Jebaraj, University of Arkansas; Jack Kleinhenz, CBE, National Retail Federation; Jed Kolko, Indeed; and Kathleen Navin, CBE, IHS Markit, conducted the analysis of survey responses for this report. The views expressed in this report are those of the panelists, and do not necessarily represent the views of their affiliated companies or institutions. This report may be reproduced in whole or in part with appropriate citation to NABE.


SUMMARY: “NABE panelists have grown more optimistic about the prospects for economic growth in 2021,” said NABE President Manuel Balmaseda, CBE, chief economist, CEMEX. “The median forecast calls for a 3.4% annualized growth rate in the first quarter of 2021 for inflation-adjusted gross domestic product, or real GDP. The panel has become more bullish about 2021 as a whole. The median real GDP growth estimate for 2021 is 4.8%, compared to the 3.8% forecasted in the December 2020 survey.”

“While NABE panelists have become increasingly optimistic about future GDP growth, their views on the job market are less so,” added Survey Chair Holly Wade, executive director, NFIB Research Center. “Despite unemployment projected to decrease every quarter through 2022, 59% of panelists do not anticipate a full recovery in the job market to pre-pandemic employment levels until 2023 or later.

“About half of the respondents considers the balance of risks to economic growth in 2021 to be to the upside, whereas fewer than one-quarter expects the balance to be to the downside,” continued Wade. “Panelists point to a large fiscal stimulus program and a faster vaccine rollout as the main upside risks.”   



• NABE panelists have grown more optimistic about the prospects for economic growth in 2021. The median forecast for the first quarter (Q1) of 2021 calls for an increase of 3.4% in inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (real GDP), quarter-over-quarter (q/q) annualized. This growth rate would be less than the Q4 2020 growth rate of 4.1%, but higher than the December survey panel's median forecast for Q1 2021 of 2.9%. The median forecasts for the remainder of 2021 have also risen from those in the December survey, to 5.2% in Q2 (from 3.5%), 5.6% in Q3 (from 3.2%), and 4.8% in Q4 (from 3.1%).

• The median forecast for the change in real GDP from Q4 2020 to Q4 2021 is 4.8%, compared to 3.4% in the December survey. The median real GDP growth estimate for 2022 is 3.0%.

• On an annual-average basis, the panel expects real GDP to increase 4.8% in 2021, but then to taper off to 4.0% growth in 2022.

• Panelists’ views regarding risks to growth in 2021 vary widely. Fifty-one percent view risks as skewed to the upside— an increase from 37% in the December survey. Less than a quarter of respondents (22%) sees more downside risks, while 25% view risks to the outlook as weighted neither to the upside or downside.

• A vast majority (82%) of panelists expects real GDP to return to pre-COVID-19 recession levels sometime in 2021, with most (52%) anticipating that to occur in the second half of the year (H2 2021). Fourteen percent of respondents indicate this will happen in 2022, and 4 percent think it will take until 2023 or later.

• The panel is less optimistic regarding a job market recovery, as 59 percent of survey respondents anticipate nonfarm payrolls will return to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2023 or later. Twenty-seven percent expect this to occur in H2 2022, and 10 percent expect it in H1 2022.