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"There are 60,000 economists in the U.S., many of them employed full-time trying to forecast recessions and interest rates, and if they could do it successfully twice in a row, they'd all be millionaires by now … But, as far as I know, most of them are still gainfully employed, which ought to tell us something."
-- Peter Lynch
Such is the case with the wisdom of Ben Bernanke. Fresh off of calling the bottom a few weeks ago, he's back at the prediction game, telling CBS, "This [economic] decline will begin to moderate and we'll begin to see a leveling off," by late this year. Better yet, 2010 will be a year of celebration! "We'll see recovery beginning next year. And it will pick up steam over time," the Great Bearded One tells us.
I hope he's right. Heck, maybe he is. Still, the track record of economic predictions isn't very encouraging. The true value of a prediction, of course, is whether or not it comes true. With that in mind, here are a few other predictions Bernanke left us with over the past few years:
"At present, my baseline outlook involves a period of sluggish growth, followed by a somewhat stronger pace of growth starting later this year as the effects of monetary and fiscal stimulus begin to be felt."
-- Feb. 14, 2008
"More broadly, the prospects for maintaining economic growth at a solid pace in the period ahead appear good…"
-- April 27, 2006
"We may see somewhat better economic conditions during the second half of 2008, reflecting the effects of monetary and fiscal stimulus, reduced drag from residential construction, further progress in the repair of financial and credit markets, and still solid demand from abroad."
-- June 3, 2008
"The resulting reductions in funding pressures, together with the increased confidence created by the assurance that backstop liquidity is available to eligible institutions, should help to promote an orderly resolution of current market dislocations."
-- June 3, 2008
I don't use these admittedly cherry-picked quotes to heckle Bernanke's performance, but to show that forecasting macroeconomic moves is about as impossible as it gets.
The two biggest factors in righting the economy are:
- Stabilizing the financial sector, which means having clarity of toxic assets on the books of banks like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , which no one can accurately decipher right now.
- Restoring consumer confidence, which is largely a psychological, not economic, force.
As companies like American Express (NYSE: AXP ) cut credit lines, and AIG (NYSE: AIG ) keeps stumbling over bonus shenanigans that erode confidence in markets, the combination of credit problems that cause consumer confidence woes make this recession much different than anything we've dealt with in the past -- not the kind of thing for which you can take old data and extrapolate where we're going from here.
But, hey, what do I know? I'm predicting that he's wrong, which is probably just as pointless as Bernanke predicting that he's right.
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