Stop me if you've heard this before: Economists are cutting their growth predictions for the U.S. economy for the first half of the year.

A Wall Street Journal Online survey of 55 forecasters predicts real gross domestic product will grow at a 2% annual rate in the first quarter, up from the 1.4% actual growth in the final three months of 2002. However, that first-quarter prediction has marched steadily downward from the 2.7% level over the past couple of months. Similarly, this year's second-quarter growth forecast has dropped from 3.2% to 2.4%.

What do those numbers mean? The Journal did a good job of boiling it down. The downgrades "amount to about $29 billion in annual economic output that was expected but now seems unlikely to materialize anytime soon. That averages to about $100 of expected output per person that won't be realized."

The biggest reason, by far, for the declining forecasts is the threat of war. Half the respondents listed that as their top concern, while 19% are more worried about the spike in energy prices.

This may actually be good news. Taken together, the main worries of over two-thirds of the economists would disappear with a quick and favorable outcome in Iraq. As evidenced by the sharp rise in the markets yesterday, however, you can continue to expect a lot of volatility until the current geopolitical turmoil settles down.