When it comes to the economy, hypochondria – the belief that certain symptoms are signs of a serious illness despite evidence that may show otherwise – has pervaded the business community, according to Brian Wesbury, chief economist for First Trust Advisors LP. Wesbury presented the 2011-2012 economic forecast today at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors annual executive summit in Washington D.C.
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He referenced several incidents over the past couple years, including the BP oil spill and the Dubai financial crisis, that fed into uncertainty (and sometimes brief panic) about the economy.
While we do have issues of concern when it comes to the economy, overall the U.S. has seen six straight quarters of GDP growth, Wesbury said. Using graphs, he showed that the U.S. has experienced a V-shaped recovery. And while that recovery has not been as steep as it has been after past recessions, it is still growth. But, Wesbury said, "people were so worried, uncertain or scared that they missed the V-shaped recovery."
In fact, many distributors reported strong years in 2010. Wesbury says that 2011 will be even better. He forecasts more than 4 percent GDP growth in the U.S., and that unemployment will drop to 8 percent. "The economy will surprise a lot of people," he said. "… Business will be a lot better than people think."
His bottom line? Don't talk yourself out of investing. What's more, don't let your political beliefs bleed into your investment decisions. Instead, believe in the recovery. He gave the example of Apple, who, despite the recession, continued to release new products – including the iPad, which has been a success for the company amid ongoing concern over the economy.
After Wesbury's presentation, Guy Blissett, author of the recently released Facing the Forces of Change by NAW, gave his two cents on uncertainty, explaining that there is a reason that uncertainty persists among business executives. Some of this is attributable to external factors that business owners cannot control, such as action by the government – either through legislation or regulation. (Read why NAW's Jade West says regulation, not legislation, is the top concern for distributors this year.)
Blissett showed one slide with nine Economist cover images that illustrated well the ups and downs businesses have seen over the past two years. They went from a cover that read: "World on the edge" in October 2008, to "A glimmer of hope?" in April 2009, to "New dangers for the world economy" in February 2010, and "Hope at last" in April 2010. Immediately after the April 2010 cover: "Fear returns." Whether the media caused the uncertainty, or whether it was just reporting on ever-changing sentiment, is kind of like the chicken and the egg question (which came first?).
That aside, Blissett said that though businesses can't plan directly for change they can't foresee, they can learn to adapt. Building flexibility by creating a stronger infrastructure is one way they can do this: hiring for new skill sets, for example, and building stronger analytics platforms.
Watch for an interview with Blissett on the new Facing the Forces of Change book in the Feb. 10, 2011, issue of MDM Premium.