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Home Publications The impact of COVID-19 on formal firms: evidence from Uganda

The impact of COVID-19 on formal firms: evidence from Uganda

Pierre Bachas, Anne Brockmeyer, Kyle McNabb and Camille Semelet
External publication

This note uses administrative tax data on firms to measure the direct impact of the lockdown on firms’ profitability, employment and exit rates. It separates the economy in three sectors, which face different size shocks and considers two lockdown scenarios: one lasting three months and one lasting five months. It estimates losses to corporate income tax revenue, increases in firms’ debt levels, cuts in payroll and their mitigation through wage subsidies, and aggregate output losses from firms’ exit.

Overall, the impact on the economy is severe, with large falls in tax revenue, increases in debt and loss of employment. Under a three-month lockdown, we estimate that 51% of firms only remain profitable and that about 26% of the firms in the highly-impacted sectors register losses. The corporate income tax revenue loss is severe and would equal 22% of its baseline in 2020. In addition, firms accumulate losses equivalent to 0.8% of GDP, suggesting that firms will need to substantially increase borrowing to survive. Firms would cut 3.2% of total yearly payroll - wage subsidies can save a substantial share of payroll in the medium-impact sector, but will not be able to save employment in the high-impact sector (tourism, transport, personal services), where firms can’t pay their fixed costs.

This note faces important limitations: (i) it does not include the indirect impacts of the shocks which operate through firms’ trade linkages, (ii) it only models a demand shock and as such firms have no issues obtaining inputs (materials, labor), (iii) Firms do not adapt to the crisis (for example by changing products, selling online etc.). Given these limitations, the numbers in this report should be considered as plausible lower bounds arising from direct effects, in partial equilibrium. Dynamic general equilibrium models of the economy, with linkages across sectors and firms, are needed to gauge longer term effects.

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