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Economy , Interest Rates

Why Economic Forecasts So Often Miss the Mark

Here’s “a good explanation for an error that large”

by Bob Stokes
Updated: October 12, 2021

Economists periodically issue statements about what they expect is ahead for the economy.

So often though, these forecasts miss the mark.

A March 2019 Bloomberg article put it this way:

[A] review of the past suggests that those who are paid to call turning points in economic growth have a dismal record.

But why?

Well, to start off with, Fed economist Jeremy B. Rudd just published a paper which challenges some of his profession's core tenets.

The New York Times mentioned the paper and said (Oct. 1):

The Rudd paper... reflects a broader rethinking of core ideas about how the economy works and how policymakers, especially at central banks, try to manage things...

The period from the mid-1980s to 2007... seems to be a high-water mark for economists' overconfidence.

Consider that on March 1, 2007, an article reported that "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke assured Congress... that he was sticking by his optimistic economic outlook." A few months later, a group of economists were polled and unanimously agreed that economic expansion was ahead.

Instead, 2007 kicked off the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

The reason why economists often get it wrong is that they generally extrapolate a current trend into tomorrow. When Bernanke and the economists who were polled predicted further economic expansion, the financial trend was still upward.

More than that, a consensus that the old trend will continue develops just when a dramatic change is near.

Let's review another example of when a consensus crystallized among economists.

This chart and commentary are from Robert Prechter's 2017 book, The Socionomic Theory of Finance:


You can see that economists' conviction in June 1984 that interest rates would continue rising (and bond prices would continue falling) derived from linear extrapolation of a trend that had persisted since the 1940s. That trend had already ended in 1981. But economists' passion relating to the old trend was so strong that when rates headed back up in 1984 the only direction that felt right to them was up.

Here's the next chart:


Just look at the dramatic plunge in interest rates over precisely the twelve-month period that they predicted they would rise and the downtrend's relentless continuation ever since. Herding is a good explanation--and a respectful one--for an error that large and conviction that perfectly mistimed.

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