Brian Beaulieu Delivered Detailed Forecasts and Recommendations at NAW Executive Summit
The U.S. economy is quickly bouncing back from COVID. The supply chain is slowly correcting itself, and distributors will see a lot of growth opportunities between now and 2030, says Brian Beaulieu, CEO and Principal of ITR Economics. Beaulieu spoke at the 2022 NAW Executive Summit about the state of the global economy and the future of distribution.
While economic projections over the next five to eight years are largely optimistic, Beaulieu warns that distributors still have several challenges to contend with over the coming years, including geopolitical tensions, rising inflation, rising interest rates, a 2026 recession that will be milder than the COVID downturn and the Great Recession of 2008-2009, and prolonged hiring issues. Below are my key takeaways from Beaulieu’s presentation.
State of the Economy
Beaulieu said that the U.S. economy has recovered from COVID-19 quickly compared with its European neighbors. After only five quarters, the U.S. economy has largely stabilized, while many countries across Europe still struggle to recover. Because of a growing population, abundance of natural resources, and the rule of law, the U.S. is uniquely positioned in the global economy, Beaulieu says that the U.S. will likely continue to be the world’s largest economy for the next 75 years or more.
Unfortunately, several factors pose a risk to the U.S. economy’s growth. For example, Beaulieu says that the infrastructure bill could have varying long-term effects and could positively or negatively impact the economy depending on whether it is funded with cash or more debt. He also warns that while a great deal of wealth is to be gained between now and 2030, the decade following will likely see a significant global decession (worse than a recession but better than a depression).
The wholesale trade segment of the economy will moderate, but we’ll continue to see sustainable growth. The strongest markets are chemicals and HVAC. He estimates that nonresidential construction will grow until it hits a peak in late 2026 and will have an early recession beginning in 2027. Residential construction will likely hit a slump even earlier.
The next global recession is coming, says Beaulieu. Although the U.S. dollar is currently the most favored world reserve currency, ongoing deficit spending, rising inflation and other factors could negatively affect our standing in the global economy.
Nevertheless, he estimates that the economy will continue to generally grow through the 2020s (some sectors will slump in 2026) until it peaks in late 2029 or early 2030. At this point, Beaulieu expects a decession will begin and last six years. He says that while it will not be as bad as the Great Depression, it will be “serious and global.”
Beaulieu says that because of inflation, investors should consider overweighting real estate and commodities over the next several years.
Inflation likely won’t slow down anytime soon. Beaulieu says distributors can expect to see more inflation over the next eight years than we’ve seen in the previous 20. As a result, interest rates and debt service loads will continue to soar. Unfortunately, because salaries have not kept up with inflation, hiring struggles are likely to continue.
Labor shortages continue to be a challenge; Beaulieu says that the quit-rate index is at a record high. A rise in savings and disposable income, mainly due to the COVID relief bills, has led to skilled workers leaving their traditional jobs in favor of starting businesses or working as independent contractors. Additionally, because the pandemic forced so many people to stay home, more families are experimenting with having only a single income. Another contributor to the labor shortage: retirement.
Beaulieu says that because the failure rate of new companies is so high, those who left their traditional roles to start businesses may return to the job market in 2024 and 2025. He says the best way to combat labor shortages is to create the best company culture possible.
“Culture means attracting and retaining employees. If you’ve always valued your people, you probably haven’t seen a mass exodus,” Beaulieu says. Expect the labor shortages to start to normalize after 2023.