Despite a chaotic, concerning start, 2021 and new leadership in the US have provided us room to reflect on 2020. While it’s easy to ruminate on negatives, one positive that I saw emerge from last year was increased American awareness of others. This is not to be confused with empathy for others, where we as a nation still have hard work to do. But as we often say in market research, awareness is where you start. While large organizations like asset management firms have necessarily well-developed global views and presence, this is not the typical US consumer experience. However, 2020 challenged this by the necessary use of other countries as a template of what was to come with the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Looking to others as examples is good practice. If the prediction of an upcoming Roaring Twenties equivalent is true, it’s useful to take a deep look at China, which continues to be ahead of the US on the COVID-19 timeline. China was the first country to respond to the virus and is the first to be emerging from the virus’s impact. While the US and the eurozone ended 2020 with economic contraction, China managed 2.3% GDP growth, the result of strong third and fourth quarters.
This surprisingly speedy recovery was first driven by investment and industrial production, especially given China’s economic management strategy of getting factories producing again rather than putting cash in the hands of consumers. But consumer spending and consumption are also working their way up, as evidenced by a successful Double 11 holiday in November, where more than half of consumers in China spent the same or more compared with last year. Tmall.com and JD.com, China’s largest retailers, reported year-over-year revenue increases of 26% and 33%, respectively. Global interconnectedness puts a ceiling on some growth, such as international travel, but Chinese domestic travel is approaching 2019 levels. By September 2020, 81% of consumers in China had resumed out-of-home activities. By multiple measures, China’s economy is strongly rebounding and poised for a healthy 2021.
I worked with my Escalent colleagues in Shanghai to conduct an online survey of a representative group of 1,249 consumers in China to gauge how Chinese consumers feel about the investment environment, where they’re looking to fund their retirement, which issues they feel pose the greatest risk to their future financial health, and their interest in ESG investing. I explore all of these findings and what they mean for a post-COVID-19 United States in a new white paper, Looking Outward to China. Click below to download the paper and feel free to reach out to me to discuss how these data can offer the US a useful comparison market as we move forward and past the height of the pandemic.