The Outlook: WSJ January Survey

Upgrades in forecasted growth rates,  largely due to expectations of widespread vaccinations.

Figure 1: GDP as reported in 2020Q3 3rd release (black), WSJ April survey (tan), June survey (green), August survey (red), October survey (pink), December survey (blue), January (orange), all in billions Ch.2012$, SAAR, all on log scale. Source: BEA, various vintages, WSJ survey, various vintages, author’s calculations.

Note that while the implied projected level of GDP is higher in the January survey relative to December, this is hard to discern in the graph because the large drop and subsequent jump in quarters 2 and 3 dwarf the upgrade. The upwardly revised growth expectations are marked starting in Q2.

Figure 2 shows the mean GDP forecast, and the fastest forecasted growth (once again7.8%, once again from James Smith — his forecasting algorithm must be very simple) and the slowest (1.7% from Daniel Bachmann ) over the next four quarters (2020Q4-2021Q3).

Figure 2: GDP as reported in 2020Q3 3rd release (black), WSJ January survey mean (blue), James Smith/Economic Forecaster LLC (red), Daniel Bachmann/ Deloitte (green), Amy Crew Cutts/A.C. Cutts & assoc.  (orange), all in billions Ch.2012$, SAAR, on log scale. Source: BEA, 2020Q3 3rd release, January WSJ survey, and author’s calculations.

Smith predicts a “V” recovery (defined as reverting to the pre-recession level by 2020Q4, or reverting to pre-recession trend). Only 5 out of 67 individuals forecasts a negative period of growth in the next two quarters. Amy Crew Cutts predicts two negative quarters, implying something like a “W” recovery.

The survey was taken between January 8-12.

Additional discussion of the survey results in the WSJ article.

Addendum, 1/15/21:

WSJ January survey in the context of the Trump administration’s current official economic forecast (budget, but not economic, forecast was updated at MSR released in November):

Figure 3: GDP as reported in 2020Q3 3rd release (black), Administration FY2021 forecast (and MSR) (red square), WSJ January survey mean (blue circle), all in billions Ch.2012$, SAAR, on log scale. Source: BEA, 2020Q3 3rd release, OMB, January WSJ survey, and author’s calculations.

Addendum 2, 1/15/21:

WSJ survey mean compared against nowcasts as of today:

Figure 4: GDP as reported in 2020Q3 3rd release (black), WSJ January survey mean (blue), Atlanta Fed (red), NY Fed (green) an IHS-MarkIt (orange), all in billions Ch.2012$, SAAR, on log scale. Source: BEA, 2020Q3 3rd release, January WSJ survey, and Atlanta Fed, NY Fed and IHS MarkIt as of 1/15/2021, and author’s calculations.

39 thoughts on “The Outlook: WSJ January Survey

  1. Barkley Rosser

    Hmmm, moving in the direction of Jim Bullard apparently. No wonder top people at the Fed take him so seriously.

  2. pgl

    “Upgrades in forecasted growth rates, largely due to expectations of widespread vaccinations.”

    Not to be a Debbie downer but the vaccination distribution to date has been slower than promised. Biden just gave a speech promising to do a lot more. Let’s hope this materializes.

    1. Moses Herzog

      Biden is being warned by many in the science community that shoving out all the vaccine supply at once could cause major problems, especially creating a long delay in getting the all important 2nd shot (which is the one that gives the higher immunity rate). He’s mimicking donald trump-like behavior, because he keeps putting out the narrative that he’s going to put all the supply out there. This is all while hearing the states are doing a horrible job of it now. He’s playing with fire ignoring scientists, the same as the orange abomination was. Unless he starts listening and unless his vaccine distribution team isn’t a hell of a lot more capable than his economics team, it’s a recipe for a public health clusterF—.

      Similar to AstraZeneca/Oxford, Stanford is working a cheap “one shot” vaccine. But they are not finished yet, and some think doing it this way has some dangerous features and leaves little room for error in dosage amounts or “strength” of the vaccine. Basically they think it might make weaker people sick because it makes the dosage too strong (the one at Stanford, I don’t know the exact name, maybe Menzie knows).

    2. Willie

      It’s all going to be dependent upon how fast the vaccines can be made. With an administration focused on actually vaccinating people and dealing with the logistics, it’s a supply issue. I saw that the J&J vaccine has hit some snags. That’s a one jab vaccine that doesn’t require heroic efforts for refrigeration. If it gets rolling, the vaccination program should accelerate significantly.

      The obvious: economic growth will depend on whether the vaccines get distributed and whether people use them. Bachman looks about right to me, what with the delays in getting the vaccines out. Growth after the vaccines are out and most of us have had one will probably be faster than Bachman thinks. As usual, the non technical cloudy plastic ball tells me these things as clearly as a dowsing stick finds water.

      1. baffling

        growth after the vaccines get out will be tremendous. lots of people tired of ordering amazon, and want to spend on experiences. this will help the services industry tremendously. my inlaws get their first jab tomorrow. only me and my kid left unprotected in the house, so we will probably take on more risks over the next few months. i also just heard that several older family members back in the midwest will get their first jab next week. i think the vaccination rate will start to pick up. i probably don’t qualify until summer. but for every maga denier who avoids the vaccine, i am one step closer. so for the health of baffling, please do not discourage maga hatters from boycotting the vaccine. maybe i can get a jab by late spring.

        it does not look like there will be supply issues, and pushing out doses without holding onto reserves appears to be the best path forward. part of the slow rollout was that we needed many healthcare workers fully vaccinated, so that we could set up large scale vaccination centers to jab and monitor. now that many of the healthcare workers have gotten their second dose and a week or so of protection, we should start to see large scale vaccination centers popping up around the country. i think you will start to see a difference within about a month.

  3. Moses Herzog

    More off-topic, from “that off topic guy”
    Well, it appears “the very stable genius”, the “master negotiator”, and the man Paul Krugman recently called the man with the “not-at-all beautiful mind”……. has been uhm….. [clears throat in exaggerated fashion ] scammed by his favorite lawyer. Who knew??

    I’m not even sure if people around northwest Virginia would pay a man exorbitant fees and probably some kind of retainer to repeat back to him that the “the sky is red”. But who knows, maybe “like…. uh…. a genius and stuff”.

    This is the same man sammy, CoRev, Bruce Hall, and Ed Hanson thought was going to “take it to the Chinese” on bilateral trade. No wonder “Princeton”Kopits used all his household Kleenex supply looking at his Ronald Reagan wallposter. Suddenly it all makes sense now.

    1. pgl

      I think you would agree with the proposition that RUDY is the world’s worst lawyer. Now how much would you pay this clown?

    2. pgl

      The Post said Trump was unhappy with Giuliani’s demand for $20,000 a day in fees and “has privately expressed concern” with some of his attorney’s moves. The former mayor last year denied seeking that specific amount, claiming a much more unusual fee structure instead. “I never asked for $20,000,” he told The New York Times in November. “The arrangement is we’ll work it out at the end.”

      We will work it out at the end? The truly slimy lawyers often ask for performance fees. If their tricks do not pan out for the client – no charge. If they do work out, they take a percentage for their cut. So under this interpretation – Trump owes Rudy nothing as what Rudy tried utterly failed.

  4. Moses Herzog

    “…… his forecasting algorithm must be very simple”

    Menzie, are you subtly suggesting James Smith’s model is very similar to mine?? Really Bro??~~that’s hurtful. [imagines a blank look on Menzie’s face as it takes him a half-second to realize I just told a self-deprecating joke……. and then still having a blank face because it’s not really that funny]

    I may try to make a 2020 4th quarter number prediction about 10 days prior to the BEA announcement. I gotta find some courage in my man berries before I do this though. Not feeling it at the moment.

  5. Moses Herzog

    This kind of shocked me. Based on who Boxer works for now I would have thought she’d make the perfect Biden pick for Head of OMB. Boxer has “management skills” I’m sure and as a former vice chair of “The Select Committee on Ethics” would make certain everything is done legally correct.

    Wait, it just dawned on me why Boxer may not be qualified to head OMB. Has she punched any brown people yet??

    1. pgl

      Cogan has been writing this supply-side stuff for at least 8 years when he shilled for Romney. Let’s see slash and burn government investment so we can have lower marginal tax rates. Come on now – let’s abuse modeling and math and one can draw a sophisticated version of Art Laffer’s cocktail napkin! Good to see John interest rates have been too low from too long Taylor signing his name on this fluff!

  6. Moses Herzog

    Well folks, it looks like all the hard work by donald trump, CoRev, Peter Navarro and his bastard brother from another mother Ron Vara, Ed Hanson, Robert Lighthizer, and sammy the restaurant man who hates food service workers, has finally paid off. Next time you see him don’t forget to tell your Catholic Priest you hate Antifa, and may the orange god MAGA bless America!!!!!!

    1. baffling

      this is an example of how bully mentality wins. trump bully’s and threatens with violence. he continues to do wrong, but those around him rationalize not taking action, because antagonizing a bully will always earn a response. graham sells the idea it is better not to punish the bully, and hope he learns his lesson and does not act up again. this, my friends, is why the republican party has become a party of cowards. trump demonstrated how abuse can be an effective deterrent.

    2. Moses Herzog

      @ pgl I wager you would concur with my thoughts below. Outside of my thoughts on Pelosi.

      Republican Saint Ronnie: “America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists”

      It’s so self-evident it doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll explain it for the slow people in the room, William J Casey never would have done that, without “the go ahead” from Ronald Reagan and the knowledge of a significant segment of Reagan’s staff. Of course this is a factual conspiracy theory that you could never get a QAnon person or white supremacist to believe if you spent the entire next month explaining it to them. Why is a CIA director working together with the man who isn’t President yet, to time release of hostages AFTER he takes office (thereby delaying American hostages’ release)??? You’d have to ask Reagan or someone from the Bush family~~because H.W. Bush also knew the score before the hostages’ release~~the same as Mike Pence wasn’t “lied to” by Mike Flynn~~Pence already knew about Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak, Pence just needed the “PR cover” of the lie. That’s why any idiot (other than Nancy Pelosi) knew Pence wasn’t going to enact “the 25th”.

      1. Moses Herzog

        Notice just in the Axios story alone that Pence “talks out of both sides of his mouth”:

        Pence says “I knew (past tense of the verb to avoid looking like a gullible douche) that Flynn lied to me”. Then goes on to express his sentiment that the Justice Dept, instead of Flynn, should be punished. On this story alone we know that Mike Pence is similar to his orange master~~~he isn’t suitable for the position of municipal dog catcher, and he’s no “man for the moment”. Pence simply did what a 10 year old who had made a C-score in his middle school Civics class would have done—certified the electoral college vote. it’s his DAMNED job.

      2. Baffling

        I dont think pelosi ever believed pence would enact the 25th amendment. But she forced him to take a position, one that will hurt him in the future. Democrats took action because pence refused to do the right thing. Pence will have to deal with that pr mess indefinitely, if he chooses to remain in politics. Pelosi got both trump and pence in that quagmire, even as pence tried to distance himself.

        1. Barkley Rosser


          Now now now, you must recognize that Mose really insists on denigrating Pelosi, even though most of us think that she is pretty competent. He must be applauded for at least avoiding using the forbidden “s-word” about her as he has done in the past (and for Biden and others as well).

  7. ltr

    January 14, 2021



    Cases   ( 23,848,410)
    Deaths   ( 397,994)


    Cases   ( 10,528,346)
    Deaths   ( 151,954)


    Cases   ( 3,260,258)
    Deaths   ( 86,015)


    Cases   ( 2,851,670)
    Deaths   ( 69,313)


    Cases   ( 2,003,985)
    Deaths   ( 45,492)


    Cases   ( 1,571,901)
    Deaths   ( 136,917)


    Cases   ( 688,891)
    Deaths   ( 17,538)


    Cases   ( 87,844)
    Deaths   ( 4,635)

  8. ltr

    January 14, 2021

    Coronavirus   (Deaths per million)

    UK   ( 1,265)
    US   ( 1,199)
    France   ( 1,061)
    Mexico   ( 1,056)

    Germany   ( 542)
    Canada   ( 462)
    India   ( 110)
    China   ( 3)

    Notice the ratios of deaths to coronavirus cases are 8.7%, 2.6% and 2.4% for Mexico, the United Kingdom and France respectively.

  9. ltr

    January 15, 2021

    Chinese mainland reports 144 new COVID-19 cases

    The Chinese mainland on Thursday recorded 144 new COVID-19 cases – 135 local transmissions and 9 from overseas, the National Health Commission said on Friday.

    Among the domestic cases, 90 were reported in Hebei Province, 43 in Heilongjiang Province, 1 in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and 1 in Shaanxi Province.

    Sixty-six new asymptomatic COVID-19 cases were recorded, while 618 asymptomatic patients remain under medical observation. No deaths related to COVID-19 were registered on Thursday, and 28 patients were discharged from hospitals.

    The total number of the confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Chinese mainland has reached 87,988, and the death toll stands at 4,635.

    Chinese mainland new locally transmitted cases

    Chinese mainland new imported cases

    Chinese mainland new asymptomatic cases

  10. ltr

    January 15, 2021

    Chinese team to turn 6.7 mln hectares of saline-alkali land into paddies *

    SANYA — The team of renowned agronomist Yuan Longping on Friday said they planned to plant saline-alkali soil rice to transform 6.7 million hectares of saline-alkali land in China over the next eight to 10 years.

    The team led by Yuan, dubbed China’s “father of hybrid rice,” said they had already signed contracts to reclaim 400,000 hectares of saline-alkali land in China.

    The announcement was made at a forum on saline-alkali soil rice held in the city of Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province.

    “In 2020, we made great strides in the breeding, cultivation techniques and soil improvement of saline-alkali tolerant rice. With joint efforts, we will no doubt achieve the goal of turning 100 million mu (6.7 million hectares) of saline-alkali soil into fertile land,” the 90-year-old agronomist said in a video message at the forum.

    Yuan’s team successfully developed varieties of saline-alkali tolerant rice in 2017, with the highest average yield of over 800 kg per mu, or 12 tonnes per hectare, recorded in Jiangsu Province last year.

    China has about 100 million hectares of saline-alkali soil, of which about one-fifth could be ameliorated to arable soil….

    * Turning more land than is covered by West Virginia from saline-alkali to farmland.

  11. JohnH

    “ The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” —John Kenneth Galbraith

  12. JohnH

    On one of my flights I once had the pleasure of sitting next to an econometrician turned stand-up comedian.

    Since our company was in the midst of a planning process, I asked her what she thought the economic growth rate would be.

    Her response? “What do you want it to be?”

    Having done my share of forecasts, I could only laugh knowingly. Been there, done that.

  13. pgl


    I’m definitely looking forward to your post on credit spreads. This is a hot issue in the weird world of intercompany pricing – the shady world where hacks posing as economists help multinationals shift profits to tax havens (personally they all should be shot and I’m generally opposed to capital punishment. But I digress). Intercompany loans with high interest rates are a favorite tool. One trick is to pretend a junk bond credit rating so one can argue for a high credit spread.

    Which brings me to some outfit selling their services as they claim they are experts at this:

    Of course as I followed their little procedure, things like “benchmark rates” whatever that means is giving me clues that their are practicing voodoo financial economics.

    I’m just curious if anyone knows whether anyone is paying these witch doctors for their services.

    1. pgl

      Ezra Solomon was on Nixon’s CEA. Leave it to know nothing JohnH to confuse him with John Kenneth Galbraith!

    2. JohnH

      pgl will do just about anything for an insult…but I’m actually in really good company for my mis-attribution:

      “ In the best of times, predicting the path of the economy with any certainty is difficult,” Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, said while delivering his opening remarks at the “Fed Listens” event.

      ‘John Kenneth Galbraith famously said that economic forecasting exists to make astrology look respectable,” Powell added. “We are now experiencing a whole new level of uncertainty, as questions only the virus can answer complicate the outlook.’”

      Whoever first made the quote, its veracity is hard to dispute.

      1. Moses Herzog

        @ JohnH
        I was once told by someone with a PhD from Berkeley that Jerome Powell has his JD. Not only does this make Powell perfect for Chairman of the Fed but I guess this also makes him perfect for head of OMB. Depends if Powell took any boxing or mixed martial arts elective classes like Neera Tanden.

        1. JohnH

          Obama nominated Powell to the Fed Board of governors. There is something to be said for having a more diverse set of governors, not just economists and Goldman alumni.

          I suppose pgl will immediately write Powell to inform him of how stupid he is for attributing that quote to Galbraith!

          1. Moses Herzog

            He’s done a “passable” job. Barely. I didn’t like the rate announcements right after the trade tariffs. It’s hard to give the man too hard of a time. If I was Biden I’d keep him a few months past the inauguration and then try to find a nice “exit point” where no one’s feelings get hurt.

  14. ltr

    January 14, 2021

    Fast recovery pushed China’s foreign trade up 1.5% in 2020, trade surplus to 5-year high
    By Wang Tianyu and Liu Yuyao

    China’s foreign trade rose 1.5 percent to $4.65 trillion in 2020, helped by its recovered manufacturing production and social order, data from the General Administration of Customs (GAC) showed Thursday.

    Exports came in at $2.59 trillion last year with a 3.6 percent growth year on year, while imports were down 1.1 percent, standing at $2.06 trillion. The continuous export expansion pushed China’s trade surplus to $535 billion, a 27 percent increase from a year earlier and its highest since 2015, the data shows.

    “It’s not going to be sustainable that way,” said John Gong, a research fellow at Charhar Institute and professor at the University of International Business and Economics.

    Gong said the rising trade surplus was not only driven by trade but also the RMB’s appreciation.

    “As time goes by, market dynamics will adjust to make the trade more balanced,” he said.

    The world’s top trader has moved to the right side of the V-shape recovery, achieving positive year-on-year growth for seven consecutive months after a sharp drop when the pandemic first hit the country in early 2020.

    In December alone, exports grew 18.1 percent from a year earlier, a bit slower than that of November, and imports rose by 6.5 percent, beating economists’ forecasts.

    Thanks to China’s faster coronavirus containment compared to many other places in the world, the country’s manufacturing sector has seen strong expansion since March 2020, followed by a growing global and domestic demand.

    Read more: China’s manufacturing PMI sustains strong expansion for 10 straight months …

  15. ltr

    January 15, 2021



    Cases   ( 523,486)
    Deaths   ( 10,323)

    Deaths per million   ( 1,019)


    Cases   ( 187,320)
    Deaths   ( 1,720)

    Deaths per million   ( 296)

    [ Setting aside, as King Karl Gustaf asked, what was the Swedish approach to the pandemic. ]

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