Predicting upturn is risky business

Recession highway sign

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: There was a report out today showing manufacturing is picking up. It's taking longer for plants to deliver their goods and backlogs of orders are up. That's a good thing. In fact, one key index of U.S. inventories has now recovered just about all the ground it lost during the worst of the recession. So maybe it's time for businesses to stop being cautious and jump back in. Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon reports.


BOB MOON: Picture the CEOs of the world as a crowd of marathon runners. They think they have the finish line in sight, and they're plotting their strategy down to the wire.

What's the right moment to draw on precious resources -- to borrow money and order new merchandise?

Guess wrong, and Standard & Poors Chief Economist David Wyss says it might end up being a fatal mistake.

DAVID WYSS: The danger is that in some industries if you sort of stay in self-protect mode too long, you're going to miss the upturn completely and end up losing market share. More companies go broke in the upturn than they do during in the recession.

Wyss says some businesses have more leeway than others. And in any case, he doesn't think the right moment has arrived just yet.

WYSS: You don't know if we're quite done with this, or if we could get another little downturn. I think we're going to be bouncing along the bottom for a while. So I think you've got time to take the jump. I don't think you have to rush.

At Yardeni Research, President Ed Yardeni says we all have a stake in the decision that businesses are struggling with now on when to stock up.

ED YARDENI: For them to increase their inventories, they're going to have to produce more, maybe even hire more -- at least stop firing. And that could start to create an economic recovery. So in many ways, they're at a critical juncture for the economy. They can make or break the recovery.

The biggest complication remains still-lagging consumer confidence numbers. Richard Hastings is consumer strategist for Global Hunter Securities. He expects retailers to hold out on holiday ordering as long as they can -- literally down to the last minute.

RICHARD HASTINGS: They'll wait until really the bitter end. You're going to see an unusual scramble in the first two weeks of December to get a little more product in.

Economic predictions have, after all, been anything but an exact science during this monster recession. S&P economist David Wyss quoted Yogi Berra today:

"Predicting is difficult -- especially about the future."

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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