Predicting a recovery in the nation's economy can be pretty heady stuff. But a group of Washington-area executives apparently think their views are as valid as those of leading economists who haven't yet arrived at a consensus.
"You may or may not agree with their conclusions, but their viewpoints will certainly stimulate your own thinking," said Erlich Manes & Associates, the Bethesda advertising and public relations firm that elicited the executives' views.
Generally speaking, the views contained in the survey don't tell us anything we haven't heard and may be more valuable from a public relations point of view than anything else.
For the most part, the views are those of Erlich Manes' clients, some of whom are national trade associations.
One local official, Leslie P. Schultz, president of United Services Life Companies, believes the federal deficit will be higher than projected because of declining revenue, and that, he said, means that interest rates have "bottomed out and will be up moderately during the first quarter of 1983."
Schultz also believes that unemployment will peak around 10 1/2 percent by year's end but that it will remain "stubbornly high" during the first half of next year. During the early stages of recovery, he notes, "hours will be lengthened before rehiring begins."
"Inventories are now low and need replenishing and with any additional good news from the holiday season relating to retail sales, I believe we will see real, but modest recovery during the first half of 1983," Schultz predicted.
Although the economy continues to falter, said Washington Gas Light Co. Chairman Paul E. Reichardt, "I expect moderate improvement in the economy next year. Much progress has been made in bringing inflation to heel."
But economic recovery is likely to be sluggish through much of 1983, said Louis A. Simpson, chief investment officer of Geico Corp.
"While interest rates have declined and may decrease further in the first half of 1983," Simpson said, "the projected federal budget deficit for fiscal 1984 and fears of rekindling inflation may put a cap on how low rates may fall."
And while there may be some expectation of recovery in the consumer sector, Simpson continued, "the outlook for capital goods is much less positive given the current low levels of capacity utilization in key basic industry and continued weak demand trends. Therefore, recovery may be delayed until the 1984-1985 time frame."
In fact, Simpson concluded that only gradual economic recovery is likely in 1983, with modest interest rate reductions from current levels resulting in continued high unemployment.
In an explanatory note to this year's poll, Erlich Manes boasts that the executives "pull no punches."
At least one, Sheldon W. Fantle, president and chief executive officer of Peoples Drug Stores, shows he isn't reluctant to embrace what has become an unpopular doctrine.
"The pursuit of Reagonomics still appears to be our only viable option with possibly some form of temporary employment programs made possible through government funding," Fantle said.
Inflation appears to be under control and "if we have the patience and desire to move slowly and judiciously," Fantle continues, "the second half of the year may make for some pleasant reading."
That may be wishful thinking if the analysis of Robert R. Nathan is correct. Nathan, who is president of a leading economic consulting firm of the same name, thinks the prospects for an upturn in the first half may not be much better than 50-50.
"Bright economic days are not yet visible," Nathan responded. "There are no signs that real economic growth in 1983 will come anywhere near usual 6 or 7 percent post-recession recovery rates.
Economic indicators don't point to a vigorous upturn, Nathan said, adding that the president "is not inclined to propose legislation specifically designed to initiate and accelerate recovery."
Erlich Manes said it hopes the executives' projections for the first six months of 1983 "will sharpen your vision."
Actually, the executives' views do little to improve a murky picture of the economy.