Add the hope for a quick return of consumer confidence to that Christmas wish list. Put it on your wish lists for New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day if you believe, as Henry A. Berliner Jr. does, that consumer confidence is the key to a turnaround in the economy.

"I think consumers are going to have to lead us out of this recession," Berliner noted after a recent speech in which he cast the economy in the bleakest terms possible.

Still, Berliner, president and chief executive officer of Second National Federal Savings Bank in Annapolis, predicted retail sales will be "a big disappointment" at least through the remainder of the year.

Not to worry. Three consecutive months of "extended good economic news" would do the trick, according to Berliner. "After three consecutive months, when housing starts are up, business failures are down and oil is under $30 a barrel," there should be a flicker of light in the tunnel, Berliner suggested. Otherwise, he warned, "The light you see at the end of the tunnel is from another train heading our way."

Not even a recent drop in oil prices is enough to change Berliner's mind about what lies ahead. "The market is so fragile now that even one piece of {good} news can get people euphoric," he cautioned. "I think we ought to be cautious."

In remarks made earlier in Bethesda, at a seminar on banking and the economy, Berliner even dashed cold water on the notion that attempts by the Federal Reserve to bring down interest rates will have a positive effect on business and consumer confidence. "It's not enough to lower Fed funds rates and have the Treasury secretary tell bankers to start lending again," he insisted. "With newly imposed capital requirements {for banks}, no capital sources {for borrowers}, overbearing regulation and the regulator-induced credit crunch, we need a return of banker confidence as well as consumer confidence."

That might do it for the national economy. But counting on a return of confidence among bankers and consumers any time soon might be wishful thinking. It's going to take a lot of confidence to overcome the effects of Reagan and Bush administration policies on the economy and problems created by excesses in the banking and real estate industries.

Locally, two things must occur before we can expect to see a rise in consumer confidence: Banks will have to demonstrate that they're now more willing -- indeed, able -- to make loans to business customers, and a comatose real estate industry has to begin showing some signs of life. Cure the ills in those two sectors, and watch the doom and gloom evaporate as a positive ripple effect spreads to other business areas.

Ask Berliner what brought about the sharp downturn in the economy in the Washington area and he will tell you, as he told people at a seminar last month, "The roots of the problem are economic and regulatory."

"In the Mid-Atlantic region, we made five mistakes: The first was overbuilding. 'Just say yes' was the bank slogan of the '80s."

Bankers weren't the only ones saying "Yes" in the selling and spending spree of the 1980s. "We didn't believe Ronald Reagan when he said he was going to bring inflation down for everybody," Berliner ruminated. "We figured that he was only going to bring down the price of groceries, never expecting that he would end the escalation in the sales prices of homes and office buildings that we had come to expect year after year. We had been letting asset inflation bail us out of our problems."

Then there was mistake No. 3, the Tax Reform Act of 1986, "ending significant tax and accounting benefits" for people who invested in commercial real estate, Berliner recalled. "Eighties-style real estate investment was mortally wounded."

The fourth mistake, Berliner asserted, was made when the president signed the Financial Institutions Restructuring, Reform and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) in 1989. "FIRREA was brought about by hands-off regulators and hands-on manipulators at hundreds of savings institutions who now have dumped over $350 billion of loans, mortgage securities and real estate into the laps of the Resolution Trust Corp., the Office of Thrift Supervision and the American taxpayer."

Finally, Berliner said, "We thought our region was recession-proof. We thought: 'They can't lay off the whole United States government and they're not going to move the capital back to Philadelphia.' We never figured that the Russians and Americans would kiss and make up and the defense, high-tech and consulting firms which serve them would be cut back. ... But banks and S&Ls continued to extend credit through 1989 as if the overbuilding, the noninflationary price structure, the tax reform act, FIRREA and the defense cutbacks weren't there."

Berliner is absolutely correct when he says the roots of the problem are economic and regulatory but, as his reference to overbuilding and lending by banks and S&Ls implies, the main sources of the problem in this region go much deeper. Indeed, overbuilding and the "just say yes" policies of lenders combined to form the taproot of the region's economic woes.

The key to improvement in the commercial real estate sector -- and presumably related business areas -- is absorption, Berliner suggested. In the meantime, however, the financial services industry generally is in for more rough sailing, he added.

That's hardly a pleasant prospect, especially when added to Berliner's observation that "nobody is building because nobody is lending, and a number of builders are in workout {negotiations to repay loans} or in Chapter 11" bankruptcy.

It's going to take more than three months of good news and a rebound in consumer confidence to clean up the mess created locally by poor judgment and compounded by trends in the national economy.