The weather may have been dismal when the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW) met in Washington in January. But the mood inside the Capital Hilton, where the group held its annual executive summit, was distinctly upbeat.
It wasn't just that the generally conservative organization was celebrating the recent political victories of candidates it had backed. It was also that the top economist for Deloitte Research delivered an economic outlook that was unabashedly optimistic.
That rosy economic report came from Carl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Research. Looking at economic indicators, he told the audience that spending on business equipment and software has recovered, with growth in the range of 10 to 15 percent. "We will see strong business investment [in 2005]," he said.
Though well received by NAW, some of his remarks could be construed as distinctly contrarian. For example, Steidtmann considers the current federal deficit, which has raised concerns on both sides of the political divide, to be a "relatively modest" percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in historical terms. The run-up in oil prices has left him equally unperturbed. He asserted that the price of oil had adjusted for productivity growth and inflation, and in a monograph distributed at the conference, he wrote that he expected oil supplies to improve. Steidtmann predicts a short-term return to prices in the range of $40 a barrel, with lower prices in the longer term.
Turning to technology, Steidtmann noted that he expected to see a shift in economic power toward small and medium-sized firms as technology prices continue to fall (a prediction not unwelcome to this audience). Spending on technology as a share of GDP is growing at double- digit rates, he said, at the same time as "phenomenal deflation" in technology costs. "As the price comes down," he said, "the real power shifts to small businesses."