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Consumers Are Astute Economic Forecasters

June 11, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ Joe Mancuso knows that entrepreneurship is growing, and he doesn’t need a survey or statistics to convince him.

He has his own measure: sales. While Mancuso has written 21 books on business, one of his earliest - ″How To Start, Finance and Manage Your Own Business″ - recently sold better than ever.

Mancuso says the change shows that jobs are scarce, people are seeking to create their own and downsizing has forced once-secure executives onto their own resources.

His insight is but one informal technique used by Americans to measure the economy, and it helps explain why so many people find that official economic reports and surveys simply confirm what they already know.

″I told you so,″ is the common response to the latest consumer confidence surveys, for example, and little wonder: Consumers supply the information, based on their own experiences; the ″experts″ merely compile or analyze the data.

One thing these consumer specialists now seem to agree on is that the ordinary person is acutely perceptive about economic conditions, and that the basis for this knowledge is often the condition of one’s own finances.

Typically, they ask the consumer about his or her income versus six months earlier and expectations for six months hence, and their assessment of their own financial condition and that of the local economy for the same period.

These are aspects of the economy that ordinary people understand well, and their responses are unusually sharp. In the same way, specialists and professionals in their fields also employ informal measurements.

Allen Cymrot, a real estate adviser, measures the strength or weakness of his market by job reports. ″Jobs are real estate’s partner for success,″ he says.

Without job growth in an area, no real estate, from the single-family home to the office building, can rise in value, Cymrot says. Because national job- growth is weak and likely to continue so, he says, so also will real estate values.

Recently Cymrot told clients to ignore the ″potpourri of material telling us that real estate is in better shape than it really is.″ It isn’t, he says, and the reason is that slow job growth is a long-term matter.

The number of informal economic clues is limited only by imagination and observation.

The difficulty your neighbor’s kid has in finding a summer job is a negative indicator, a decrease in the number of empty store fronts on Main Street is positive. The relatively few jobs for graduates is very negative.

A sharp rise in the number of ads slipped beneath your car’s windshield wipers or placed in your mailbox suggest that the local economy isn’t as good as it should be, or that people may have been forced into self-employment.

Nationally, the proliferation of cent-off coupons can be construed as an effort needed to stir up penny-pinched consumers. Once used for special promotions or to test markets, coupons now are routinely expected.

You know competition for your dollar is intense when airlines fight price wars, Visa USA and Sprint plan 25 percent discounts to rates AT&T charges on long distance calls made with calling cards, and when Computer Associates, a software concern, offers a new product free to the first million callers.

Combined with personal financial conditions, such varied signals give people a fairly sound insight into at least their local or regional economy, and often into the condition of the national economy.

In their own way, ordinary people act very much like professional compilers of consumer information. They gather their information, add their insights and make their projections.

End Adv for AMs Friday, June 11

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