Don't start breathing again yet, but it begins to look as if the current U.S. economic slump may not be terminal after all.
That's the unmistakable conclusion from talks with leading experts on key economic sectors affected by the Persian Gulf crisis. They look to a recovery well before the next presidential election in 1992.If they're right, it may be premature to start thinking of George Herbert Walker Bush as "George Herbert Hoover Bush." Not that both sides in Washington don't seem to be working diligently, if sometimes inadvertently, to make the label apt. (In Hoover's era, the three key policy booboos that transformed a recession into a depression were higher taxes, trade protectionism and tight money. Surely we wouldn't make any of those silly mistakes again, would we?)
Based on the latest Washington triumphs of politics over economics, extreme pessimism might indeed be warranted. But a chat with top analysts of three vital segments of the real (i.e., private) American economy suggest that a more accurate conclusion would be: this too shall pass.
Start with the automobile industry. Historically, it was the emblem of American success; more recently, the symbol of faltering American competitiveness. David Healy, of Barclays de Zoete Wedd, has no superior among current observers of this troubled sector, and he hasn't had much good to say about it in recent years. But he's now surprisingly upbeat.
He concludes that, despite all the political wailing, the increase in gasoline prices has not been enough to discourage auto buyers.
The top airline analyst, Michael Derchin of County NatWest Securities, sees happier days beyond the horizon. He says the strongest, best-capitalized companies are likely to prosper later in this decade.
When the price of oil was still around $40 a barrel, Oppenheimer & Co.'s Michael Metz boldly told me that it would be "below $20 in six months."
The bottom line is that on an industry-by-industry basis, the U.S. economy plainly is weak - and getting weaker. But the troubles seem to be cyclical after an unprecedented eight-year peacetime expansion, and if we can just restrain the politicians from "helping" us too much, we should be back to a growing economy by 1992. For citizens generally, and investors in particular, this suggests that the end of the world may again be a little late this decade.