Economic indicators going down as the pandemic continues. Source: Shutterstock.

This week, CUNA Chief Economist Mike Schenk recorded a video from his home and had some grim news for the industry. But, tucked away inside some of the darker economic numbers and trends, there was a glimpse of sunlight.

According to Schenk, the U.S. economy contracted at a rate of 5% annualized in the first quarter and “our baseline forecasts calls for further contractions in the second quarter, equal to 35% annualized.”

“We are expecting nasty economic consequences,” Schenk said. He framed these comments around the expectation of unemployment rising above the 23% level, as well as a full contraction of the U.S. economy hitting 4% for the year and that there will not be a V-shaped recovery. Schenk said he expects other letters to take its place.

“We believe this will be a U-shaped downturn, if we’re lucky. If not, it will be an L-shaped downturn,” he said.

A U-shaped recovery, in this case, would show a gradual rise of the economy back to previous highs. But, an L-shaped recovery looks exactly like the letter – a sharp decline, followed by a flat to very slow rate of recovery that could take years.

High unemployment, shelter-in-place orders and uncertainty about the length and death toll of the pandemic are only a few of the items credit union members are worried about. “Credit union members will feel the effects and the financial stress of these items well past the end of the pandemic,” Schenk said.

And for credit unions, executives should brace for interest rates to remain close to zero through the end of 2021, as well as a severe downward pressure on asset yields, because they “will be declining and declining significantly” and will have a direct impact on a credit union’s bottom line. Asset yields typically account for about 75% of those bottom-line results.

So, where is that ray of sunlight from Schenk?

He said that credit unions were being smart in the pre-coronavirus days. “Credit unions collectively entered this crisis in good shape.” According to Schenk, credit unions overall had strong asset, loan, savings and membership growth, as well as excellent delinquency and net charge-off rates.

While most of those numbers have already gone in the wrong direction, Schenk said credit unions should expect a surge in credit union memberships in the wake of this crisis, as the industry experienced after the Great Recession.

The other expectation down the road, according to Schenk, a spike in credit union consolidations. “We do not expect to see a spike of credit union failures, despite the severity of the crisis. We do expect an increase in consolidations going forward,” he said. Those consolidations, he believed, would come in the wake of the crisis in the next two to three years.

In the video, Schenk also announced a new economic crisis planning tool for credit unions called the Capital Planning Analysis. This tool allows credit unions to plug in different economic scenarios specific to the credit union to see how resilient the credit union might be in the next one, two or five years.