James F. Smith, venerable economic forecaster from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, will be looking into his crystal ball for the 29th time at this week’s annual Crystal Ball Economic Forum held at UNC for the past 30 years. Joining him for the 27th consecutive year is David Berson, Nationwide Insurance’s chief economist.
These two have become an institution on campus: every April gazing into the future based on their knowledge and analysis of the past; giving investors a heads-up on what they can expect in the near, and not-so-near economic future.
Their batting average is not too bad, either. They predicted the Great Recession.
“What stands out in my mind is how these guys have been right on the big calls, not necessarily where the Dow Jones was going to stand in 12 months, but where the economy will be,” said Joe Sulock, UNCA’s Owen Professor in Economics and organizer of the Crystal Ball.
What Smith says he did not foresee was the depth and breadth of the Great Recession, which still has him somewhat stumped.
“No one alive has ever experienced such a slow rebound in the U.S. From 1921 through 2013, through the Great Depression and World War II, the gross national product on average has grown by about 3.2 percent a year. We haven’t had a year over 3 percent growth for almost a decade,” says Smith.
Smith says he is optimistic about the economic future in store. When he looks at the data over the long run, he says betting on the future is simple logic. During the 20th century the US economy grew ten times more often than it contracted. The average length of the 11 recessions experienced from 1945 through 2001 was only 10 months.
“We should see many new economic records set in the U.S. and around the world in 2014 and 2015,” Smith said.