If you want to know how fast the U.S. economy is recovering, ask Lou Crandall. He's the chief economist at economic advisory firm Wrightson ICAP, and Bloomberg Markets magazine just ranked him the No. 1 most accurate analyst when it comes to forecasting the U.S. economy.
The magazine unveiled its list on Thursday after evaluating 64 forecasters on their ability to predict the movements of 13 key economic indicators: the consumer price index, durable goods, existing home sales, gross domestic product, housing starts, industrial production, the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index, new home sales, nonfarm payrolls, personal spending, the producer price index, retail sales and unemployment.
Forecasters were judged based on their predictions during the two-year period starting on Oct. 1, 2008, including the financial crisis and a portion of the current recovery. (Because GDP is only recorded quarterly, the ranking for that indicator was based on a period starting Oct. 1, 2007.).
Best in Show
Crandall topped the list as the best overall forecaster, with an 86.4% accuracy rating. That could portend some bad news considering that, in the magazine, he makes an economic prediction that most hope he is wrong about: "The recovery is going to continue to be painfully slow," he says. "Some progress is being made, but it is from such dismal levels that we have not yet re-established a sense that things are moving in the right direction."
Here's the list of the top 10 forecasters, along with their overall accuracies:
1) Lou Crandall, Wrightson ICAP (86.4%)
2) Dean Maki, Barclays Capital (84.9%)
3) Bill Jordan, Ried Thunberg ICAP (83.7%)
4) John Herrmann, State Street Global Markets (82.9%)
5) Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs (81.5%)
6) Gregorio De Felice, Intesa Sanpaolo (80.3%)
7) Heinrich Bayer/Thilo Heidrich/Fabienne Riefer, Deutsche Postbank (79.3%)
8) Marie-Pierre Ripert/Nathalie Dezeure, Natixis (79.0%)
9) Nariman Behravesh, IHS (78.8%)
10) David Sloan, 4CAST (78.2%)
While Crandall was the best overall projector, some other economists were far more accurate at predicting specific indicators, according to the Bloomberg Markets report. Raymond James's chief economist, Scott Brown, scored a 90% accuracy rating for the unemployment category -- making him the top unemployment forecaster -- but didn't rank in the top 10 overall.
Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley's managing director and chief U.S. fixed income economist, David Greenlaw, also didn't make the top 10 overall list even though he scored the highest at forecasting personal spending trends, with an amazing 91.4% accuracy in that area.
Still, many forecasters agree that the U.S. is likely to experience slow growth for the foreseeable future. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg from Nov. 3 to Nov. 9 project that the U.S. economy will expand only 2.5% in 2011 and 3.1% in 2012. The U.S. can only hope the reality will outpace these predictions -- although given Crandall's record, it might be prudent not to bet on it.