Is productivity dead? It is no secret that global productivity has languished in the post-financial-crisis years – with precious little evidence of a turnaround. If robust productivity growth were indeed a relic of the past, the long-term consequences for investors would be profound: Lower-for-even-longer interest rates would prolong the pain for yield-starved savers, pension funds and financial institutions; equity markets might underwhelm in a low-growth world; and PIMCO’s New Neutral might begin to look permanent.
But what if amidst all the doom and gloom there were a productivity-revival story in its infancy? That world would look starkly different. Imagine: World growth stages a comeback, interest rates normalize to the benefit of fixed income investors globally, and fears of secular stagnation give way to a renewed optimism in our future economic potential.
The productivity question couldn’t be more important. After all, there are only two ways to grow an economy: boost productivity, or grow the labor force (demographics). And we’re certainly not going to get much help from demographics. Fortunately, the upside potential for global productivity is growing (or, in economist-speak, productivity’s “right tail is getting fatter” – referring to the rising probability of a positive surprise in the range of outcomes). You might never recognize productivity’s upside potential, however, looking through the lens of macroeconomics alone. So let us look instead to microeconomics (sacré bleu!) for insights. Our thesis in a nutshell: Don’t rule out a global productivity rebound in the coming years that ushers in “old normal” (4%+) global growth. While a strong rebound is not PIMCO’s baseline view, it’s a tail that is fattening – and the microeconomic catalysts may have arrived.