The OFCE estimates that households have accumulated € 75 billion in savings since the start of the crisis. In June, consumption is expected to remain 5% below its pre-crisis level. Questions continue to be asked about the speed at which the French will start spending again.

The Beaugrenelle shopping center, in Paris.

How quickly will the French start consuming again? So far, households have been relatively spared from the crisis. It was the State, via an unprecedented increase in indebtedness, which absorbed the consequences of the confinement of the economy to stem the Covid-19 epidemic by setting up the partial unemployment and cover scheme. ‘part of the loss of income of the self-employed.

According to calculations by the French Observatory of Economic Conjunctures (OFCE), for the French economy, the loss of income during the sixteen weeks between March 17, i.e. the start of confinement, and the 5 July, would expect nearly 165 billion euros. The major part of this loss is absorbed by the State, to the tune of 96 billion euros, companies taking 54 billion euros on their account and households, “only” 14 billion euros.

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500 euros per household

This still represents on average a loss of 500 euros per household. But this was more than offset by the drop in consumption, the French not having been able to spend all of their income since the stores were closed. Thus, according to the OFCE, the French would have saved 75 billion euros between March 17 and July 5, including 55 billion during the two months of confinement.

On average, the wealthiest 10% of households should see their savings climb by 4,000 euros during these sixteen weeks despite the drop in their income. And they would concentrate 15% of the additional savings of all French people, that is to say 11 billion euros. It is in part how this money is spent that will define the pace of the recovery. For Xavier Timbeau, economist at OFCE, “If all of the forced savings were spent, the loss of activity linked to the sixteen weeks of confinement and deconfinement would be halved”.

For now, the signals are rather positive. For the Boston Consulting Group, “France, whose economy has fallen the most brutally on a global scale due to the severity of its confinement, is the country in Europe with the strongest resumption of activity”. And the OFCE estimates that in June, household consumption should continue to normalize but remain 5% below its pre-crisis level. If this figure may seem relatively low at first glance, it is in fact very important since household consumption accounts for more than half of French GDP.

“Phenomenal”

Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, estimated at the end of last week that, although the worst of the crisis is over, it will take time for this jump “Phenomenal” savings are reflected in higher investments and spending. This is also what the economists of the OFCE fear, for whom “A significant part of the 75 billion euros in savings accumulated from March 17 to July 5 could not be consumed in the short term”. The other big question is that, as Xavier Timbeau says, “The expenditure of this forced savings can induce sectoral shifts”.

Clearly, the French, prevented from going to restaurants during confinement, could buy consumer electronics, cars or clothing. Products not always made in France. According to INSEE, only 36% of manufactured goods purchased by the French are “made in France”. While services are over 85%. However, the coronavirus first affected service companies, such as restaurants, accommodation and tourism. For the French economy, this additional savings should not widen France’s already abysmal trade deficit too much.